Igor Stravinsky and Vaslav Nijinsky ruffled the feathers of the Parisian elite and sparked a riot at the Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in 1913 with their ballet "The Rite of Spring," and while Nijinsky's choreography has been performed only occasionally since its 1987 reconstruction by the Joffrey Ballet, Stravinsky's "Rite" abides.
In this centennial year, we've heard the work in various guises -- Jon Kimura Parker played his ingenious solo piano transcription in Portland in April; Jeffrey Payne and Susan Smith accompanied the Agnieszka Laska Dancers last month at the Astoria Music Festival with Stravinsky's own version for piano four hands; and Monday night at Kaul Auditorium, Imani Winds brought it to vivid life in a version for wind quintet.
The arrangement was by Jon Russell, who expanded his own earlier abridgment for winds at the ensemble's behest. Even at 20 minutes, it pared down Stravinsky's 35-minute score substantially, but it was ingenious, implying much of Stravinsky's orchestral palette in just five parts -- Mariam Adam's clarinet was a fine stand-in for trumpet, for example, and you could just about hear the timpani. Russell also somehow implied the harmonic density of the original with fewer voices than you'd think possible.
After some shaky intonation in the lean first few measures, Imani's performance was brilliant --intense, dynamic and wildly colorful. As you might expect from musicians who are as steeped in Latin and jazz as they are in classical, they nailed Stravinsky's jagged, shifting rhythms incisively, retaining some of the work's essential percussive quality and conveying its drama.
Given the presence of the Imani and the Parisian context of the program, Francis Poulenc's Sextet for Piano, Flute, Oboe, Bassoon and Horn was perhaps a natural choice for a companion piece.
Stravinsky and Poulenc presented contrasting personalities -- the former a protean provocateur from Russia, the latter a witty boulevardier very much at home in his native Paris -- and the two pieces are formally very different, Poulenc's adhering to a classical model and Stravinsky annihilating any hint of one.
But the energy and tonal brilliance of the performance (with Anna Polonsky at the keyboard) provided the unifying factor and brought out an unusual degree of wildness in Poulenc.
Those two pieces alone would have made a perfectly satisfying concert. They were accompanied by Zoltan Kodály's Serenade for Two Violins and Viola and Maurice Ravel's Sonata for Violin and Cello, however, and even if that made for a long evening, it's impossible to say in retrospect how eliminating a piece could have improved the program.
The Kodály, nimbly played by Ani Kavafian, Benjamin Bielman and Paul Neubauer, was rich in Hungarian folk idioms, echoing on a small scale the rustic pungency of the "Rite;" Ravel's Sonata, with the tight duet of Yura Lee and Fred Sherry, featured harmonic ingenuity, proto-minimalist play of short repeated figures and extended techniques on both instruments. Neither was necessarily related to Stravinsky's epochal work, but both represented the rising tide of the modernity symbolized by that notorious premiere 100 years ago.
-- James McQuillen