Zephyros Winds Opened for the Rolling Stones? No, not really. But it was an irresistible conceit to steal oboist James Roe's quip, "I never thought I could say that we would be the opener for a Rolling Stones concert!" The "we" were the members of the Zephyros Winds, a wind quintet, and guest pianist Pedja Muzijevic. A rolling stone may gather no moss, but a Stones concert can play havoc with logistics and scheduling for other events of lesser mass appeal. The huge crowd and parking burdens of the October 8 "happening" at Wallace-Wade led to the opening concert of the 2005-6 Chamber Arts Society's season being moved to the afternoon. Members of the Reynolds Industries Theater audience who bought discounted parking passes along with their season tickets were very lucky. Those who hadn't came into the Bryan Center grumbling, "I can't get no satisfaction" because Dook's parking crew had hit them up for $15, triple the normal charge. (As if we needed to find yet another way to erect barriers to building audiences for the arts....)
Zephyros Winds consists of flutist Jennifer Grim, oboist James Roe, clarinetist Marianne Gythfeldt, bassoonist Douglas Quint, and Patrick Pridemore on horn. Wind quintets are rarely heard locally and, more often than not, the performances that are given here involve ad hoc ensembles assembled by university music departments or drawn from regional orchestras. Having prepared as intensely as a professional string quartet, the Zephyros players raised the bar of standards much above average. All five had seemingly effortless virtuosity with their instruments, solid intonation, subtly matched dynamics and phrasing, brilliant solos as needed but otherwise seamlessly blended, whether in pairs or playing as one. Listening to the almost peerless musicianship of pianist Pedja Muzijevic left the music lover in speechless wonder, grappling for apt superlatives. With the very well-tuned piano's lid fully up, he never covered any of his colleagues' lines, no matter how quietly they were playing.
The interpretation of Mozart's Quintet in E-flat, K.452, for piano and winds, had extraordinary clarity and was a model of the application of classical style. The composer's cunning craftsmanship was evident throughout, not least in his use of short phrases – because of players' need to breathe – and the dovetailing that masked this. Among the delights were bright piano trills and the mellow tone of the oboe, gorgeous stopped horn notes, ensemble so well blended that it glowed from within – and, of course, attractive melodies.
With fine duos for flute and keyboard available from composers ranging from Bach and Handel to Poulenc, I was mystified by the choice of a transcription of 14-year old Felix Mendelssohn's Violin Sonata No. 1, in f minor, Op.4. Beethoven's influence as a model, closely adhered to, is evident in all three movements. Fine breath control and clean articulation of very fast notes were among the virtues of Grim's approach, and she was ably supported by Muzijevic.
The eleven continuous sections of Samuel Barber's Summer Music, Op. 31, gave plenty of scope for the Zephyros to strut their stuff as a traditionally-configured quintet. Although the composer wanted to evoke the languid days of summer, there are faster and louder sections within the piece. The ensemble heeded the composer's warning – "Don't play it too slowly" – so they maintained a steady, forward impulse even during the slower sections.
While I generally dislike transcriptions, some can provide new insights to well-known showpieces. That is certainly true for the astonishing arrangement by David Carp for piano and wind quintet of Richard Strauss' "Till Eulenspiegels lustige Streiche" ("Till Eulenspiegel's Merry Pranks"), Op. 28. Despite the radical downsizing from a 100+-piece orchestra, all the major themes are present, usually played by the original "solo" instruments. The piano pretty much takes on all the string parts. All the impish insouciance of the original is retained and laid bare.
A hearty and long standing ovation was rewarded with rare fare, the "gavotte" from Ludwig Thuille's Sextet in B-flat, Op. 6 (1891). This well-crafted piece, with its catchy theme and bagpipe-like droning, deserves more frequent exposure.