As part of the Sights and Sounds concert series, the NC Museum of Art hosted Chamber Music Raleigh and the Symphony Winds, a wind quintet made up of current and former NC Symphony players. The five pieces for five players ranged from classic quintet literature to quirky and even “dangerous” pieces by avant-garde composers.

Paul Taffanel’s Quintet for Winds, a charming, three-movement work, served as a bright and exciting opening. The complex layering and deft tempo transitions immediately established the quintet’s discipline and perfect balance. Each voice took the lead at times in soloistic form but without a shred of arrogance, even when the melodic lines were nimbly passed in fragments from instrument to instrument. In the final Vivace movement in particular, the parts were so seamlessly layered that it didn’t even sound like any of the players needed to breathe!

Clarinetist Michael Cyzewski presented the next work, Charles Delaney’s Suite for Woodwind Quintet. Each movement, he explained, was written to highlight one of the diverse voices of the quintet. The six-movement work began with a brief introduction, then each movement was more traditionally scored for a solo voice with accompaniment and further development. The idiosyncrasies of each instrument were showcased, while still retaining all of the finesse and elegance one comes to expect from such talented performers. For example, the Gavotte movement, meant to give the bassoon a solo part, is reminiscent of the instrument’s feature in Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf – cranky, low, and lilting – but bassoonist Victor Benedict still took sensitive rubatos and playful pauses.

After a brief intermission, horn player Rachel Niketopoulos introduced the oft-overlooked Amy Beach and her Pastorale for Woodwind Quintet. Beach, she reminded the audience, was the first female American composer, though stifled in her ability to perform and publish her work. Beach’s work is full of layers and little swells, beautiful, rolling harmonies, and sweet, unpretentious lines that hint at the delight and freedom Beach must have felt in the moments she was able to fulfill her potential. The performers had a few pitchy moments coming back from intermission, but were able to adjust very quickly.

The way these five played together sounded like friends: comfortable, relaxed, and simply enjoying themselves and these diverse musical pieces for such a strange instrumentation. So strange is the orchestration of the wind quintet, in fact, that many of the more well-known composers did not ever attempt to compose for it. While the oboe and bassoon are both double-reed instruments, the clarinet and flute are different woodwinds entirely, producing sound in completely different ways, and the horn is not even considered a woodwind, instead fitting neatly into the brass family, hence the occasional description of this ensemble as a “wind” quintet instead of a “woodwind” quintet.

However, when played with such tenderness, diversity of tone colors and dynamic ranges, the Symphony Winds proved that the wind quintet can be a magical group, timbres overlapping just so until a whole new balance occurs. Mary Boone‘s flute playing, especially, was incredibly sensitive and manipulated in several different ways to fit as both a melody instrument and a succinctly blending voice. The Symphony Winds have had so much experience balancing into a large group, and that definitely shows in their treatment of the quintet.

The last two pieces were the best examples of their teamwork yet: György Ligeti’s Six Bagatelles and Júlio Medaglia’s Suite Belle Epoque En Sud-America. Both were incredibly different from everything played up to this point and great choices with which to end the concert. Ligeti’s works were originally scored for piano, but six of the twelve were later re-orchestrated for wind quintet. Full of interesting, rhythmic staccatos, these are less melodic and more frenetic. The unapologetically firm dissonances and use of extreme register changes were masterfully performed. Niketopoulos was able, perhaps for the first time in the concert, to show off the volume and richness of her horn, while oboist Sandra Posch had some very nice melodic moments.

Medaglia’s work, first published in 2002 for the Berlin Philharmonic’s wind quintet, was showy, brilliant, and fun, full of South American-inspired dances. The first movement’s delightful melody was layered with Boone’s delicately flourishing countermelody. The second movement featured a lurching waltz punctuated by grand solos by Posch and Niketopoulos, but the final movement was all about Cyzewski and his E-flat clarinet, the smaller variant of the regular clarinet that plays much higher and in a more “sassy” timbre, as Cyzewski described it. This final dancing movement culminated in what felt like a Brazilian ragtime style with gratuitous solos to relieve players of all restraint and really let loose at the end of this magnificent performance.