Orsino Ensemble [Adam Walker (flute), Nicholas Daniel (oboe), Matthew Hunt (clarinet), Amy Harman (bassoon), Alec Frank-Gemmill (horn), Peter Sparks (bass clarinet)]
Britten Movement for wind sextet (1930)
Reicha Wind Quintet in E flat major Op.88/2 (1811)
Janáček Mládí (1924)
Wigmore Hall, Monday 5 June 2023 1pm
by Ben Hogwood
This attractive programme of works for wind ensemble began with a rarity.
Benjamin Britten seldom wrote for wind – a shame, since his writing for the instrumental family as soloists or in an orchestral context is remarkably assured. The Movement for Wind Sextet performed here by the Orsino Ensemble is thought to have been a response to Janáček’s Mládí – and is scored for the same forces. This account was shady and elusive to begin with, reflecting its elusive melodic and harmonic figures. There was beautiful control from Nicholas Daniel’s oboe solo before a quicker section featured some lovely ‘burbling’ sounds from the clarinets, oboe and flute pushing for the higher reaches. Ultimately this piece remains beyond reach, an intriguing if slightly frustrating sign of what might have been had Britten committed more wholeheartedly to the wind ensemble.
It made a welcome change to hear the music of Anton Reicha. Born in Bohemia in 1770, Reicha – a flautist – soon found himself leading the court orchestra in Bonn, where his musicians included a certain viola player named Beethoven. Moving on to Paris, Reicha taught at the Conservatoire, where his pupils included Berlioz, Franck and Liszt. In spite of these big-name links, his own music is not heard as often as it should be. He did however write prolifically for wind ensemble, completing 24 accomplished quintets, which are among his most-heard compositions.
The Wind Quintet in E flat major is a particularly attractive example, and received the ideal performance here. The Orsino Ensemble began with a brightly voiced Lento, with the added plus of Amy Harman’s characterful bassoon in the lower register as the ensuing Allegro began. This provided the impetus for the ensemble to exchange attractive melodies, enjoying the beautiful sonorities a wind ensemble can create. The Menuetto had a lovely lilt to its triple time, with busy inner parts to support the genial melody. The third movement also had a winsome lilt to its rhythmic profile, albeit a good deal slower – and with lovely operatic solos from oboe and clarinet. The perky last movement added humour to the mix, with some thoroughly enjoyable interplay, delivered here with virtuosity and style.
Janáček’s sound world is immediately different to those around it – as is the case with the intriguing wind sextet Mladi. Written as a ‘memoir of youth’, and composed around the same time as his masterpiece The Cunning Little Vixen, the work looks back to a childhood in Hukvaldy. Premiered in Brno in 1924, it was first performed in Britain – at the Wigmore Hall in front of the composer – in 1926.
The conflicting accounts of youth, refracted through the mind of a 70 year-old composer, are fascinating to the ear, with joyful moments tempered by unexpected, melancholic asides. There is however an underlying positivity running through the music.
The Orsino Ensemble enjoyed the raucous folk-based tunes along with the doleful asides that are such a characteristic of his work. The rich shades of colour were ideally exploited. Shadows lengthened over the second movement, depicting the composer and his mother parting at a train station. The third movement had the vigour of youth, with some sparky themes, while there was a motoric element to the last theme, generated by the horn – before more complementing aspects of joy and melancholy.
This was a very fine concert, with an encore dedicated to the recently passed Kaija Saariaho. Nicholas Daniel introduced the second of Oliver Knussen’s 3 fantasies for wind quintet, preceded by the poem How Sweet To Be A Cloud, part of the composer’s Hums and Songs of Winnie-the-Pooh. The sonorities we heard here were unexpectedly true to Saariaho’s sound world, and formed a characteristically striking memorial.
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