Sunday, June 4, 2017

Calico Winds round off the season in fine style


REVIEW

First Fridays at First!, First Lutheran Church, Torrance
DAVID J BROWN

Calico Winds.
There was something of an end-of-term feel about the lightweight, light-hearted program delivered by Calico Winds (Rachel Berry, French horn; Kathryn Nevin, clarinet; Theresa Treuenfels, bassoon; Eileen Holt, flute; with guest artist David Kossoff, oboe, standing in for the temporarily absent Ted Sugata) as the last “First Fridays at First!” concert of the 2016-2017 series. There was even a bit of community singing, as Ms Holt led the audience in one verse of the hymn “God Be With You” as a lead-in to the final item, the fourth movement of contemporary New England composer Gwyneth Walker’s Braintree Quintet.

Each of this work’s five movements takes a different well-known hymn-tune and subjects it to resourceful variation treatment. Given the importance of context, I am always wary of extracts from multi-movement pieces being presented, and I did find the “God Be With You” movement rather unsatisfactory heard in isolation. Fortunately, the whole piece is on the composer’s website here, as well as most of the score available for download. I certainly found it rather more enjoyable listened to entire, with an inventive piquancy that runs throughout.

William Mason.
No reservations about the rest of Calico Winds’ program, however, and kudos to their giving some exposure as the starter item to a short piece by a forgotten founding father of American music, William Mason (1829-1908). Like all his works, Dance Antique, Op. 38 was written for solo piano, but its arrangement (by these players?) for wind quintet worked just fine. A slight sense of the Renaissance in some of its harmonies is about as close as it gets to anything “antique”, as structurally it is a straightforward Classical scherzo-and-trio (the horn given some moments to shine in the trio) and as such its amiable verve was well projected by the quintet. Mason wrote an entertaining volume of Memories of a Musical Life, the full text of which can be downloaded here

Roger Stevens’ wind quintet version of Bach’s "Little" Fugue in G Minor BWV578 proved for the millionth time that the wondrous surety of Bach’s tonal architecture is not merely resilient to arrangement but positively revels in it, with different timbres revealing new facets. Calico Winds adopted a quite steady basic tempo, which allowed the various woodwind colors to shine cleanly and avoided any tendency to gabble Bach’s interweaving lines. 

Claude Arrieu.
The most substantial item – if five brief movements all over and done in under a quarter of an hour can be called substantial – was the Quintet in C by the long-lived but now little-remembered French composer Claude Arrieu (1903-1990). I had never heard this before (or, I confess, any of her music) but if my innocent ear had come across it, the concision and wryness would have made me think “Poulenc” without hesitation, though maybe Poulenc with the harmonic spice slightly reduced and a little added sweetener in the form of passing jazz inflections in the first movement and the amiable waltz of the central Allegro scherzando. The two slow movements placed second and fourth were both anchored by upward walking bassoon bass lines but otherwise different in mood, the only real touch of melancholy coming in the Adagio fourth movement – to be entirely dispelled in the splendidly raucous Allegro vivace finale that had me thinking of the similar end to Ibert’s Divertissement

Many thanks to Karla Devine, Jim Eninger and colleagues in Classical Crossroads, Inc. for their continued commitment to presenting great music for us lucky South Bay inhabitants. With the “First Fridays” lunchtime series finished, and just one more to come in the companion Saturday afternoon “The Interludes” series, what are we going to do until the 2017-2018 series begin in the fall?! 

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“First Fridays at First!”: First Lutheran Church, Torrance, 12.15pm, Friday, June 2, 2017.
Photos: Claude Arrieu; William Mason; Calico Winds.

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