Under the Surface at the Proms – Nielsen: Wind Quintet

Proms Chamber Music 2, 27 July 2015 – Royal Northern Sinfonia Winds at the Cadogan Hall


Three of the five Royal Northern Sinfonia Winds taking part in the Cadogan Hall concert – Timothy Orpen (clarinet), Juliette Bausor (flute) and Steven Hudson (oboe). They were joined by Peter Francomb (horn) and Stephen Reay (bassoon)

Nielsen Wind Quintet (1922)

Composers and their anniversaries have long been a prominent feature of the BBC Proms, and this year is no exception.

Happily the BBC have taken the opportunity to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Carl Nielsen with both hands. The seeds were sown with Sakari Oramo and the BBC Symphony Orchestra, and their cycle of the composer’s six symphonies that fitted snugly into their 2015-16 Barbican Season.

Now at the Royal Albert Hall we have the chance to enjoy the composer’s three concertos, for clarinet, flute and violin respectively – and here, in the second Proms Chamber Music concert of the season at Cadogan Hall, the opportunity to hear the composer’s most popular chamber work.



(Nielsen from 2:25)

The Wind Quintet is a charmer. Written in 1922 after Nielsen was captivated by the Copenhagen Wind Quintet, it celebrates the sonorities a combination of flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon can offer – and Nielsen cheats a bit by alternating between oboe and its very close relative, the slightly deeper cor anglais (English horn).

The first movement celebrates the sound of the five instruments together and also on their own – while the second spins a lovely melody from the clarinet and uses it as the base for a sunlit movement. The third starts with improvisatory bursts from solo instruments – oboe and clarinet – before a solemn hymn deceives us into thinking the composer has gone all serious – before he enjoys a set of variations on that theme, pairing instruments off and exploring different combinations.

It is a lovely piece to listen to, and the Royal Northern Sinfonia Winds did it full justice, clearly enjoying the interplay. They were equally good with Mozart’s Quintet for piano and wind, where they were joined by the stylish piano playing of Christian Blackshaw, who led what is effectively a concerto reduction.

It was Mozart that Nielsen heard the Copenhagen ensemble playing – and the Wind Quintet in turn led to the Clarinet and Flute Concertos. So Nielsen, in the final decade of his life, proved an accomplished writer for wind instruments – and the Proms’ exploration of his achievements is already proving an enjoyable aspect of the festival.

There will be more Under the Surface features as the Proms progress, exploring lesser known pieces and composers at the festival

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