EPs / Cassettes / Singles
Madera Wind Quintet:
Five At Play
An opening Gershwin-esque flourish (in Sean Friar's Short Winds) notwithstanding, the composer who repeatedly comes to mind as I listen to the Madera Wind Quintet's stellar debut collection is Stravinsky. On grounds of sonority, the group's sound, constituted as it is by flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and horn, calls to mind Dumbarton Oaks and other chamber-styled miniatures the composer created during the middle part of his career. Five at Play also exudes a rousing and, yes, playful character that aligns its sound to the syncopated, jazz-influenced pieces he composed at the time. There's a mischievous quality indeed about Sarah Page Summar's “To Neinilii's Mischief,” for example, especially when the players' miniature phrases are voiced in somewhat of a hocketing style. In terms of composers, however, Stravinsky doesn't appear though he in all probability exerted some degree of influence on the young American composers featured. In determining the content of the recording, The Madera Wind Quintet, established in 2008 by students and alumni of the University of North Texas, selected six works from over 130 that were submitted to the group following a 2012 “Call for Scores.”
Of the six, Carl Schimmel's nine-part Towns of Wind and Wood features the most dramatic contrasts, something that's clearly evident when the individual parts—six of them each less than a minute long—are so varying in mood and style, as exemplified by the violent hyperactivity of “Town of Sticks and Cudgels” versus the peacefulness that infuses “Town of the Scent of Daybreak.” Contrast is also key to Philip Wharton's Quintet, a beautiful and fully realized five-part work that brings into sharp relief the rich textural dimension of Madera Wind Quintet's sound. Wharton's piece is programmatic to the degree that titles such as “Rapid Winds, Flowing Waters” and “Twilight Mists” convey the basic character of its individual parts. Five at Play's material is largely energized and uptempo, which makes the lushly textured evocation “Twilight Mists” all the more affecting for being the rare exception.
The level of musicianship is exemplary throughout, something clearly evident when the quintet format presents the performance of each player so nakedly, and the group gives the composers' works passionate readings. One of the recording's primary strengths is that the listener is able to hear with crystal clarity the players' individual voices and thereby better appreciate the spirited interplay between the horn and the woodwinds. But Madera Wind Quintet is also an outfit that's capable of sounding like a much larger ensemble, as the ruminative “Twilight Mists” illustrates so memorably.