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Chamber Music Wilmington continued its 2019-20 season with a concert by the fine Volante Winds quintet. This young group is comprised of doctoral candidates at the internationally renowned Jacobs School of Music at Indiana University. As usual, Beckwith Recital Hall at the University of North Carolina Wilmington was the locale and, as always, contributed excellent acoustics to the quality of the performance.
The opening work on this program titled "Wind Energy," was the Potpourri fantastico sul Barbieri di Siviglia del Mo. Rossini – a medley of themes from Rossini's Barber of Seville. The sound of the group was immediately present, with smooth legato, well-honed balance, and tightly in-synch rhythms and entrances. The closeness of breathing and phrasing together was also apparent from the start. As well as they coordinated as a unit, each player also shone as a soloist. Clarinetist Wai Ki Wun had several sensitively-played solos. There was also florid flute accompaniment at times, played with bubble and fine even articulation by Suyeon Ko. The piece and the performance were delightful fun.
Spoken remarks from the stage followed, given at several points in the program by Wun. He was entertaining, clearly holding the audience for a good time when he spoke. Along with being enjoyable, this reflected the interest of the group in informing their audiences. He also mentioned that this Potpourri is the quintet's "signature piece." That wasn't surprising.
The fairly brief Scherzo by Eugène Bozza followed. This was a bit of a perpetual motion piece, and was handled with ease and aplomb. As the name suggests, there was some humor, and pleasurable rising and falling chromatic figures. The ending was positively cute.
The longest piece on the program was the following Quintet for Winds by Paul Taffanel, a French composer from the latter part of the 19th century. This three-movement work – described as "standard in the wind quintet repertory" in remarks from the stage – has drama and pleasing melodic sections. It began with the drama, as oboist Rebecca McGuire played a drawn-out melody with a full-bodied pensive quality. What one could notice in this stronger-character piece was the effective declamation of the group at high points. They delineated arrival chords with real strength.
This was the first piece on the concert to include multiple movements, and the absolute quiet of the audience after this first movement, anticipating the second, was striking. It was clear that the quintet was holding listeners in intent concentration. This songful second movement had an attractive melody from hornist Olivier Huebscher who, after some shakiness in the opening piece, had come into full strength and arched a soaring phrase peak later in the movement. The brief minor mode episode had full, passionate tone. The ending vivace, like the faster music earlier, was played with technical ease and fluidity and brought the piece to a pleasing conclusion.
The concise "Piccola Offerta Musicale" by Nino Rota followed the intermission. Modeled to some extent on the "Musical Offering" of J.S. Bach, one heard the group's always-sensitive phrasing and a bright virtuosic quality in the fugue-like central section. More attractive melody led to a lyrical ending.
In a program otherwise focused on light music, the Kleine Kammermusik (1922) of Paul Hindemith had the greatest heft. This five-movement work ys successfully varied and has the clear lines called for by this fairly polyphonic style. Standout points are a strong peak in the first movement and the quiet, lovely phrasing of the third. Perhaps a high point of the entire concert was in this movement, with the supporting rhythm in one passage played by the horn in a fabulous ppp. One enjoyed the showy solos following later in the clarinet and Sara Fruehe's bassoon (phrased beautifully in every solo she had) and during the hearty march, which was the main material of the concluding movement. This substantial piece gave a fulcrum to the program.
The ending work returned to delightful fun. This piece was Lo svago (1969), which from the stage was translated as Divertissement. It was by the Hungarian composer Frigyes Hidas (1928-2007). This most recent work on the concert drew a good deal on the jazz idiom. The first movement rhythms were sharp and precise, with a touch of humor in having the players stomp at the beginning and end. The second movement swayed appealingly and had more shapely oboe solos. The third movement featured a good deal of syncopation and the fourth movement was a lovely brief mood. The presto final movement was bright and delightful with rhythms like the third movement and more upbeat syncopations.
The good-sized crowd gave the quintet an ovation and was treated to an encore: the group's arrangement of the Scottish song "Loch Lomond." It was a lovely arrangement of this nostalgic tune. The beginning and end emulated the drone of bagpipes in the lower instruments and the melody itself was wonderfully expressive. The arrangement also featured shapely counterpoint around the melody. At the end, the upper instruments resembled a bagpipe sound as well, and the concert faded out with intimate, soulful expression.
Note: This ensemble performed the day before in Morehead City.