The venerable genre of wind quintet—written for flute, oboe, clarinet, French horn, and bassoon—has existed since the beginning of the nineteenth century; actually, the combination of woodwinds and horn for chamber music is rooted in the tastes of Emperor Joseph II and his eighteenth-century court in Vienna. Despite its long history, the wind quintet is far from stagnant, and the Imani Winds, who performed at the Lied Center last Wednesday, was the perfect group to demonstrate the genre’s vitality.
Simon Shaheen’s Dance Mediterranea begins with a flute solo, played excellently by Valerie Coleman, that employs pitch bending and flutter tonguing to lend an organic, flowing air to the tune. When the other instruments entered, the articulation was uniformly crisp and clear, especially in Coleman’s and clarinetist Mark Dover’s lines. Bassoonist Monica Ellis provided bold punctuation that accented the dancelike atmosphere pervasive in the piece.
As members of Imani Winds explained in spoken remarks, the concept of this concert was international unity; how, then, did an arrangement of The Planets, by Gustav Holst, fit into this plan? In fact, as a young man, Holst became interested in Hindu philosophy, learning Sanskrit and even setting Sanskrit texts to music. As for The Planets, the four movements that the quintet played were part of a larger interest that they had in arranging large orchestral works for chamber ensembles, a project that they had begun with Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring and continued with Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. While this reviewer was initially skeptical of the quintet’s assertion that these mammoth pieces had an inner chamber-music character, there proved to be considerable merit to that claim in the four Holst movements that the quintet played. Characters of individual melodic strains were illuminated by the intimate setting of the performance, especially in “Mars”; however, there were moments, such as the horn and oboe doubling in “Jupiter,” that did not sound successful.
A world premiere is always a special occasion, and the first piece after the intermission, The Light Is the Same by Reena Esmail, was commissioned by the Lied Center for this concert. It is based on the Sufi poetry of Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi and takes as its central tenet the idea of religious unity. The complex rhythmic activity and use of two Indian scales are potentially impediments to accessibility, but the program notes delivered from the stage went a long way toward elucidating the concept of the piece. The performers delivered on their promise of a gradual progression from darkness to light, ending the piece in a percussive flurry of activity.
Miguel del Aguila’s Wind Quintet No. 2 is a popular, unique work that ended the concert with a mix of familiar and unusual sounds. The piece is full of extended techniques, such as striking the mouthpiece of the French horn, pressing the flute keys without providing air, and playing on only the mouthpiece of the flute; therefore, when conventional techniques occur, they stand out and provide harmonic backbone. Imani Winds performed well, but the “special effects” of the work bordered on kitsch—like the darkened room and partially offstage quintet for the “Under the Earth” movement. Still, the del Aguila capped off a concert of interesting programming that showcased the full range—and then some—of wind instruments’ capabilities, in the expert hands of fine musicians.