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Mladi - Reicha; Martinu, Janacek / Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet

Reicha / Bpwq / Reinhard / Preis / Heilmann
Release Date: 09/27/2011 
Label:  Bis   Catalog #: 1802  
Composer:  Anton ReichaBohuslav MartinuLeos Janácek
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Woodwind Quintet
Number of Discs: 1 
Length: 1 Hours 16 Mins. 

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Notes and Editorial Reviews

An outstanding selection of Czech works for winds.

This disc brings together a varied and consistently interesting program of Czech music for winds. In the Reicha works the Berlin Philharmonic Quintet plays with perfect intonation and balance. Every one of the seemingly unlimited range of colors that Reicha draws from his ensemble tells with unobtrusive clarity, and the works are perfectly paced. The last of the pieces for English horn and wind quartet, an adagio in siciliano rhythm, is particularly haunting, and it marries well with the second movement of Mládí.

The Martinu performance also has an appealing lightness, with nicely sprung rhythms and the composer's jazz inflections relished,
Read more but not to the point of affectation. The wind component of this piece uses two bassoons instead of bassoon and horn, while the scherzo is for flute and piano alone, and once again the quality of both the solo and ensemble work is outstanding.

Mládí isn't on quite the same level as the rest of the program. The very qualities of smoothness and blend that work so well in the other pieces fail to characterize Janácek's music as vividly as it should be. Note, for example, the extremely legato articulation in the second movement, and the soft edge to the accompaniments in the finale. The virtuosity remains impressive, and the bass clarinet has a wonderfully fat and fruity timbre, but ultimately the music demands a sharper profile. Still, for the intelligence of the program as a whole, not to mention the outstanding sonics, this disc remains very recommendable--nearly, but not quite, perfect.

--David Hurwitz, ClassicsToday.com


The first thing one notices from listening to this CD is the exquisite quality of the individual winds in these performances and also the wonderful sound to match. If this were all the disc had going for it, it would still provide a great deal of pleasure. Fortunately, the interpretations of the various works here also merit equal praise.

Anton Reicha is a composer well known to most wind players. He composed some 25 quintets and the three additional pieces included on this disc for wind instruments. These works provide a technical challenge to the instrumentalists, as Reicha himself was a distinguished flutist and knew the capabilities of the other wind instruments well. The Quintet in E flat is a fine example of the genre and contains enough interest to keep the listener involved, especially when it is played as well as it is on this disc. The work is in four movements and shows off the virtuosity of the performers well. The bassoon in the first movement is especially noteworthy and there is a virtuosic horn passage starting at 6:06 that is then followed by the bassoon and the other winds. The second movement, a minuet, has a catchy theme and has several contrasting trios. The slow movement is like song that features the oboe as soloist and again with contrasting faster sections; the main theme returns the last time on the horn. The quintet ends with a sprightly rondo with solos by the various winds. The instruments sound as if they were right in the listener’s room. This is true throughout the disc, which is closely recorded, but in no way claustrophobic.

Reicha’s Three Pieces are independent of each other. The first was composed in 1817 and the other two in 1819. The English horn replaces the oboe in all of them. While the English horn is the featured instrument in all three, the flute also has an important soloistic role in the first two and the horn in the D minor piece. As Michael Hasel points out in his note to the CD, the first piece is a tiny and lyrical “opera scena” with the oboe often in dialogue with the flute; the second piece has march-like patterns, and the third is a somewhat somber adagio. In some ways, I find these pieces more attractive than the earlier Quintet. Again the performances leave nothing to be desired.

It is quite a switch to Martin?, from the nineteenth-century drawing room to the twentieth-century salon. Martin? was living in Paris at the time he composed this Sextet and he was absorbing the styles prevalent there at the time, including Stravinskian neo-classicism and jazz. The work is very light-hearted, something of a divertissement. Indeed the third and fourth movements of the five-movement work are titled Scherzo (I. Divertimento) and Blues (II. Divertimento). With its chameleon character and elements of jazz it reminds me of some of Poulenc’s music. The Sextet is scored, rather unusually, without horn, but with an additional bassoon. The third movement Scherzo, though, is solely for flute and piano. The fourth movement not only evokes the blues, but also turns into ragtime before it ends. The second movement Adagio is more pensive and is a good contrast to the others. Even with all the influences, the work is unmistakably Martin?’s. The Berliners capture the effervescence of the music as well as could be imagined.

The real meat of the program, however, is Janá?ek’s Mládí, one of the twentieth-century’s masterpieces for winds. The scoring is for flute (and piccolo), oboe, clarinet, bass clarinet, horn and bassoon. It is sufficiently well known, so I won’t go into detail about the individual movements. Preceding it on the disc is a tiny children’s march on which Janá?ek based the third movement of the sextet. The work’s title has been translated variously as the March of the Bluebirds (as on this CD), Blue Tits (probably more accurate, as this is a common European bird — and Janá?ek knew his natural history well), or even Blue Boys. The word modra?ek in Czech means “blue-breast” or “blue-coat”. At any rate, the lively march for piccolo and piano is a nice appetizer for the main work. The instrumentation of the march is an alternate to the original for piccolo, snare drum and glockenspiel. There is a recording on Supraphon, in the “Unknown Janá?ek” series of the original instrumentation, and the percussion adds a lot of color.

Mládí receives an absolutely gorgeous performance here. It is not only beautifully played but well characterized, too. Some may miss the tangy woodwinds and fruity horn that a native Czech group provides. A fine example of that is an account by the Prague Wind Quintet and Petr ?áp (bass clarinet) on Supraphon that accompanies the String Quartets with the Talich Quartet, and is a mandatory acquisition for Janá?ek fans. Nonetheless, I would not want to be without this new version by the Berliners. It is in every way superb. One technical note: I have noticed recently that recordings of Janá?ek’s music now contain catalogue numbers. “JW” stands for “Janá?ek Works” and the numbers presumably are taken from the authoritative Janá?ek’s Works: A Catalogue of the Music and Writings of LeoŠ Janá?ek by Nigel Simeone, John Tyrell and Alena Nemcová, published by Oxford University Press in 1997.

For a good sampling of Czech wind music this new BIS CD would be hard to beat, as the selection of works is varied and the performances and recordings are outstanding.

-- Leslie Wright, MusicWeb International
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Works on This Recording

Quintets (6) for Winds, Op. 88: no 2 in E flat major by Anton Reicha
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Woodwind Quintet
Period: Classical 
Written: 1811-1817; France 
Sextet for Piano and Winds, H 174 by Bohuslav Martinu
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Woodwind Quintet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1929 
Andante for Wind Quintet no 2 in F major by Anton Reicha
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Woodwind Quintet
Period: Classical 
Written: 1819; France 
Andante for Wind Quintet no 1 in E flat major by Anton Reicha
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Woodwind Quintet
Period: Classical 
Written: 1817; France 
Adagio for Wind Quintet in D minor by Anton Reicha
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Woodwind Quintet
Period: Classical 
Written: 1817-1819; France 
March of the Bluebirds by Leos Janácek
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Woodwind Quintet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1924; Brno, Czech Republic 
Youth by Leos Janácek
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Berlin Philharmonic Woodwind Quintet
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1924; Brno, Czech Republic 

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