Composer: Kalevi Aho (b. 1949)
Performance date: 29/06/2022
Venue: St. Brendan’s Church
Composition Year: 2006
Recording Engineer: Simon Cullen, Ergodos
Instrumentation: fl, ob, cl, bn, hn
Instrumentation Category:Wind Quintet
Orsino Ensemble (Adam Walker [flute], Emmanuel Laville [oboe], Matt Hunt [clarinet], Alec Frank-Gemmill [horn] Bram van Sambeek [bassoon]) -
Kalevi Aho [b.1946]
Wind Quintet No.1 
1. Agitato – Cantando
2. Vivace, leggiero – Allegro marcato
3. Marziale, pesante – Furioso – Tempo 1
4. Andante, con tristezza
From a composer’s point of view the wind quintet is a difficult ensemble. The flute, oboe, clarinet, horn and bassoon differ widely in terms both of tone production and character. Balance between the instruments can be a problem, as can the unanimity of the ensemble. The combination is fairly descant-heavy and, moreover, ethereal pianissimo sonorities are hard to achieve.
For those of us who are not composers, the difficulties of composing for such a small, varied group of instruments will probably not have occurred to us. Compared to other chamber ensembles, like the string quartet or a vocal ensemble, bringing together the disparate sounds of the high reedy oboe and the soothing woody clarinet with the majestic sonorities of the horn (and we may wonder who thought of adding in a horn to this woodwind mix in the first place), is indeed a challenge. This difficulty may well account for the comparatively small range of repertoire for type of ensemble, compared to the vast choices available to chamber string or vocal ensembles. In his note for the BIS recording with the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet, Aho describes different techniques he employs to try and balance the contrasting sounds and tonal characters of the five instruments – unison passages, reducing parts, and even having some parts play off stage to create a spatial as well as a sound difference.
The instruments take us through a range of sounds and registers available to them. The first movement has an almost mischievous quality, but moves to exquisitely beautiful and quite mournful melodies in the cantando section. The second movement is playful and quick, pushing us along, and the horn comes in with long brassy notes over the frantic pace of the woodwind. A section of rising unison passages is in opposition to a completely contrasted solo melody, before the dynamics fade and the movement closes. The third movement opens with a stylised march that puts the listener in mind of a theatrical scene or programmic music, slightly menacing as though marching to the gallows. The fourth movement begins solemnly in the lower register. These sections are contrasted with other-worldly gentle melodies from the higher woodwinds, higher strains floating downwards to silence the low earthly passages of the bassoon and horn. The delicacy into which the melody moves is a sublime ending to this feast of sounds.
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