Monday 16th March 2015

The final concert of the 2014-2015 season in the series promoted by Aberdeen Chamber Music Concerts was given by Arctic Winds founded in 2011 and comprising five of Scotland’s most experienced and highly regarded wind players. Not only was their playing thoroughly accomplished – an absolute joy to listen to – their introductions to the music delivered in such a friendly spirit and with a spicing of good humour along the way went down particularly well. I loved the story told by flautist Yvonne Paterson about the person from an undisclosed music club who thought that music composed by Jacques Ibert was in fact by Jackie Bird!

As is often the case with wind ensembles, a brass group even more so than a woodwind one, some of the music programmed was originally composed for different instruments and is therefore an arrangement by a different composer. There were two such pieces in today’s programme both absolutely splendid arrangements and generally accepted into the worldwide wind quintet repertoire. The first was Fauré’s Dolly Suite written originally for piano duet and arranged for wind quintet by Gordon Davies if I am not mistaken. The second half of the concert opened with the Novelette in C major by Poulenc composed originally as a piano solo and arranged for wind quintet by, I think, Geoffrey Emerson.

All the other pieces were originally scored specifically for wind quintet by the original composers. The first of these which opened the recital was Three Short Pieces by Jacques Ibert. The opening Allegro was hard driven – full of hustle and bustle and very French. It reminded me of paintings of busy Paris streets by artists like Pissarro.

The Andante featured lovely duet playing between clarinet and flute and then the finale starting slow broke into a lively Allegro scherzando, quirky and witty which could have been background music for an early silent film.

Fauré’s Dolly Suite opens with the attractive Berceuse reminding me of “Listen with Mother” and my preferred storyteller Daphne Oxenford. This arrangement had every bit of the charm that made the piano version so special to a little boy. At least two of the movements look at first glance to have something to do with cats but as we were told, the second movement Mi-a-ou is actually the way that Hélène Bardac for whom Fauré wrote the work used to pronounce the name of her older brother Raoul. The fourth movement Kitty-Valse refers not to a cat but to a pet dog. Something about these stories suggests the warm good humour of family life and the innocence of early childhood and this music is the very musical embodiment of such ideas. In the second movement Yvonne Paterson exchanged her flute for a piccolo and its sharp tones added to the fun of the piece. In the third movement, Le jardin de Dolly, a lovely smooth tune launched by the clarinet was taken up beautifully by oboe, flute and then horn.

Oboe and horn played most attractively in Tendresse while in the Finale, Le Pas Espagnol the piccolo was back again and the bassoon seemed to stomp along gaily as part of the dance.

The Quintet in E flat op.88 no.2 by Anton Reicha was an absolute delight with so much imaginative use of the instruments. I loved the almost toy town effect of the three upper instruments contrasting with the bassoon in the opening movement. The upward scales that powered the Menuetto were delightful and the oboe leading off the Poco-andante was lovely. The finale opened with a delicate little dance and then the horn came in splendidly with the tune. This was imaginative scoring well played and great fun.

Yvonne Paterson gave us a witty taster of her “beat box” flute – a bit of the kind of effects we hear at SOUND Festival flute concerts but this time with no more than good fun in mind.

Poulenc’s Novelette in C major had just a suggestion of antique quality about it – the sort of thing you get when composers think of early music.

Gustav Holst’s Quintet in A flat Op. 14 was the most serious work in the programme. There was a strong suggestion of English Pastorale about it and although it was written before Holst became fascinated with the English Folk tradition there was definitely folksiness about the finale. The Adagio led off by horn and then oboe had fascinating accelerated passages included in it and I really liked the Minuet and Trio – rather short but absolutely delightful.

Jim Parker’s Mississippi Five is inspired by early jazz but is not itself jazz – as one jazz enthusiast in the audience told me, “It just does not swing!”

Nevertheless the five movements were both colourful and atmospheric. I could imagine the sensations of walking through the New Orleans Streets hearing the sounds of jazz coming from the various establishments in King Oliver Steps Out. The bassoon gave us the thudding oompah bass usually played on a brass bass in some early jazz bands. The rhythms of the chunking paddles of the riverboat were nicely suggested in The River Queen. Even the horn suggested blues singing in Le Tombeau de Bessie Smith but for me the best movement was the finale, Les Animaux which suggested the rhythms and harmonies of ragtime while the players had great fun interspersing the music with the various animal sounds suggested by the title of the movement.

Arctic Winds provided a generally light-hearted and fun concert to conclude the present season. We will be back for a new season of concerts on Monday, 12th October when the Arcadia Quartet of Romania will be back by demand after their hugely successful concert in 2013 when they will play music by Mendelssohn, Rasvan Metea (a Romanian composer) and Bartók.

Arctic Winds Review