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The program consisted of: Charles-Édouard Lefebvre, Suite for Wind Quintet, Op. 57; Edward MacDowell, three movements from Woodland Sketches, Op. 51, arr. R. Taylor; Claude Debussy, Petite Suite, arr. G. Davies; Poldowski, Suite Miniature, trans. G. Barrère; Katherine K. Davis, Musette, trans. Barrère; William Grant Still, "Summerland," arr. A. Resnick; May Aufderheide, "Richmond Rag," arr. D. Frost; and Charlotte Blake, "That Poker Rag," arr. W. Meredith.
This was indeed music appropriate for its location in a wooded park, and the park was appropriate for this well-known wind quintet because "Sylvan" is derived from the Latin "sylva," meaning woods or forest. (The state name of Pennsylvania means "(William) Penn's woods.") No weighty Beethoven, no challenging avant-garde music – just one work (Lefebvre's Suite) originally composed for wind quintet, and then a collection of light-hearted pieces that were perfect for a sunlit, blue-skied forested park on a Sunday afternoon.
Some of the composers were familiar (MacDowell, Debussy, Still), some not (Poldowski, Aufderheide, Blake), but the Sylvan Winds made each work a miniature thing of beauty. The five musicians stood in a circle in the center of the Ritter Park shelter, each moving easily between melodic leads to accompanying harmony parts. They took turns providing verbal introductions to the various works, augmenting the printed program's excellent notes by Joseph and the late Elizabeth Kahn. For example, Palmer riffed on the various names by which Poldowski was known, reminding us that "Poldowski" was a pseudonym for the daughter of famed composer/violinist Henryk Wieniawski. ("Just one name, like Beyonce?," Palmer quipped before telling us all her other names.)
Since they were playing outdoors, the performers were well-supplied with clothespins (short and page-length) to secure their music to their stands. This made for some longer-than-usual pauses between movements, as the clothespins had to be adjusted with each new page. Perhaps the growing use of computer/pad screens of a program's music, the pages being turned by the tap of a foot on a remote switch, might make things easier? The occasional intrusive sounds were at a minimum: only one out-of-tune aircraft flying over a final cadence and a few tinkling bells from a passing food truck reminded us that we weren't in a concert hall.
While each member of the Sylvan Winds is active in the metropolitan New York music scene as a consummate professional, flutist Kabalin has a North Carolina School of the Arts connection which she mentioned in her opening remarks. The varied sounds of the five instruments wove their tapestries of sounds as colorful as a polychromed quilt. Who has the bass line now, Schondorf's horn or Cuffari's bassoon? Is that melody line played by Kabalin's flute, Halvorson's oboe, or Palmer's clarinet? This is one of the delights of listening to wind quintet music, or music arranged for that ensemble. "Who's on first?," indeed!
Some highlights of the beautifully-played program: the opening Lefebvre Suite, with the oboe/horn dialogue, its Smetena Moldau-evoking passages, and its frolicsome fugal finale; the perfectly-in-tune unison beginning of MacDowell's "In Autumn" from his Woodland Sketches; the rollicking conclusion of the Debussy suite; the delicate musings of Davis' Musette; and the ragtime remnants: Aufdereide's Charlie Chaplinesque "Richmond Rag" and Cuffari's bassoon solo and her dialogue with Halvorson's oboe in Blake's "That Poker Rag."
As in previous events in this setting, it was often difficult to hear the performers' spoken words. CMR's Executive Director, Kaine Riggan, has stated his intention to improve this situation with some portable audio assistance for verbal notes.