In the Weeds: Music for Wind Quintet. Music by Bernstein, D’Rivera, Kutnowski, Piazzolla, & Titlebaum—Ventus Machina (Karin Aurell, Christie Goodwin, James Kalyn, Ulises Aragon, and Patrick Bolduc—MSR Classics MS1633—61:00, ****1/2:
Ventus Machina is the name of a wind quintet of music professionals from Mount Allison University in New Brunswick, Canada. The format isn’t assured, like a string quartet (two violins, viola, and cello), but this ensemble performs music for flute, oboe, clarinet, french horn, and bassoon. And several pieces on the album were written especially for the ensemble.
The two most recognizable pieces are arrangements. The first is of Bernstein’s West Side Story, and the second is of Piazzolla’s Milonga sin palabras.
Having spent a lot of time performing wind ensemble music myself, I can vouch for the high quality of each performer and their contribution to a well balanced ensemble. The acoustic for the recording is especially supportive for the repertoire.
So, having established that Ventus Machina is a quality ensemble, let’s look at the unfamiliar pieces included. Martin Kutnowski’s Tonadas y mateadas from 2015 is a single movement work with contrasting sections. It’s a tonal piece with definitively modern harmonies. The piece is approachable, including moments I perceive as humor, contemplation, and frivolity. The piece suits the players’s talents well.
Paquito d’Rivera’s piece, Aires Tropicales from 1994 is an even stronger composition than Kutnowski’s. It’s a seven-movement work, with titles including Habanera, Dizzyness, and Contradanza.
A tie for the most fun piece might be up for grabs between Bernstein and another commissioned piece by Mike Titlebaum entitled Short Set from 2016. The three movement work is tightly constructed, with a strong melody presented in each of the piece’s movements. The piece might also be the ensemble’s favorite, as far as the one with the tightest, most assured performance. I liked this piece, and the performance was confident.
New pieces are a tough sell. My guess is that Mozart still outsells many twenty-first century composers, much to the disappointment of today’s composers of chamber music. But this recital is nothing too scary for the lover of classical repertoire. The ensemble makes a strong case for hearing more wind quintet music! And the variety of pieces make an excellent introduction to the genre.