The Avanti Wind Quintet gave a program of woodwind classics Wednesday night in the final concert of the Schneectady County Community College Chamber Music Series.
Flutist Christopher Krueger, oboist Fredric Cohen, clarinetist Michael Sussman, bassoonist Stephen Walt and French hornist Laura Klock all teach at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst where the quintet is artist-in-residence. Some of the musicians also play principal chairs in the Springfield Symphony. Local audiences know Walt’s playing from his stellar work with the Albany Symphony Orchestra, where he’s the principal bassoonist.
The three pieces the quintet played are staples of the literature and much beloved by wind players, Cohen told the small audience. The quintet began with the simplest and least complicated and worked up to the hardest and best written of the three.
Cohen quipped with the crowd about how much the quintet “liked” the wintry weather and how great the parking lot at the college was. Perhaps the less than enticing weather dampened the quintet’s spirits, because it didn’t play any of the works with too much inspiration.
At times, a smoothness and mellow quality would shine, but generally, it was business as usual.
The quintet began with Darius Milhaud’s quaint and occasionally lyrical “La cheminee du roi Rene” (1939). Throughout the seven short movements, the quintet played with good pitch and balances and its ensemble work was fairly fluid.
“La Maousinglade” was the prettiest and the quintet did the most with dynamics. The addition of the piccolo in “Casse a Valabre” provided a good jolt of color.
Irving Fine’s “Partita” (1948) was much more interesting and intricate. The quintet seemed to perk up with the quirky rhythms, technical challenges and tricky ensemble work.
Prior to one of the five movements, the audience received a taste of the realities of playing a wind instrument: out came the swab to dry out the clarinet or to shake the water out of the valves, or to inspect the reeds. A little adjustment here and there and then it was onward.
Orchestral audiences rarely notice this happening, so it was a tiny bit of education.
Carl Nielsen’s Quintet (1922) is a masterpiece. The final theme and variations movement, which has cadenzas for each of the instruments between lively sections for the group, is a major test individually and to make the movement work as a whole.
The first two movements were nicely fluid with some good blending with bassoon, clarinet and horn. The various cadenzas, which also included Cohen playing English horn, were a bit rough. The chorales and other sections that connected these freely composed solos were much better with a mellow tone and balanced sound. The short march was especially jaunty.