Review: Zéphyros Winds visits Zankel, performs with world-class talent

Saturday, February 16, 2013
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— The Zéphyros Winds, a wind quintet, debuted Saturday night at Skidmore College’s Zankel Music Center as part of the Sterne Virtuoso Series.

The group was barely a year old when it won the top prizes at the 1995 Fischoff National Chamber Music Competition, the first wind quintet to ever do so, and quickly set a steady touring schedule that has since included all the major festivals and concert halls in this country and abroad. Currently, its members are flutist Jennifer Grim, oboist James Roe, clarinetist Marianne Gythfeldt, bassoonist Saxon Rose and French hornist Zohar Schondorf. All of them are skilled players who have substantial orchestral and chamber music experience.

As such, their ensemble skills were at a high level, their techniques were solid and often brilliant and their individual tones were full, round and in tune.

They began with August Klughardt’s Wind Quintet, Op. 79 (1898), one of the standards of the repertoire. The four movements were well written with strong development, romantic lines and harmonies, and charming melodies. The Zéphyros played with passion, total commitment and in one voice. The phrasing was especially strong and well inflected with finished endings and the sound was robustly balanced. The mood throughout was vivacious and vibrant. The fourth movement was particularly interesting as it zipped along with unison-type scalar passages done in waves.

An arrangement of Ravel’s “Le Tombeau de Couperin” with the assistance of college harpist Elizabeth Huntley was sunny and very French in its colors. The pacing was good and the technical displays often virtuosic, but the blend was off. In the Prélude, the lines needed more fluency and unaccented smoothness; the Menuet was a little forced at first before it settled into a more euphonious whole.

Paul Pierné’s “Suite Pittoresque” (1900), however, was charming and beautifully cohesive. The three sections depicted aspects of nature with the third about a cat and a bird being the most descriptive. The three upper winds were the fluttery, flighty birds and the bassoon crept sneakily to pounce.

Grim and Gythfeldt were the fabulous soloists in Elliott Carter’s very cool “Esprit Rude/Esprit Doux” (1984). An abstract mix of the pointellistic and the sustained line, the duo were virtuosic and in complete control of the give and take gestures and especially of capturing the piece’s underlying humor.

Endre Szervánszky’s “Fúv”sötös, no. 1” (1953) was strongly Hungarian with a lot of high notes, fast technical passages, trills, and folk elements. The Zéphyros flew through with high energy and a robust sound and got a standing ovation.

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