“Rainbow Sundae” = NIKOLAI TSCHEMBERDSCHI: Concertino (Woodwind Quartet); JOAO GUILHERME RIPPER: Wind Trio (oboe, clarinet, bassoon); ARTHUR BERGER: Quartet in C; WALTER PISTON: 3 Pieces (flute, clarinet, bassoon); WALTER HARTLEY: Woodwind Quartet; MARTIN SCOT KOSINS: Rainbow Sundae – Westwood Wind Quintet – Crystal Records CD 759, 60:49 ****:
This is the newest recording by the indomitable Westwood Wind Quintet, almost something of a national treasure at this point, and going down in my personal musical history as one of the three legendary quintets of this country, the other two being the New York Woodwind Quintet and the old Philadelphia Woodwind Quintet. With 54 years under their belt, and most of those with the same performers–and nearing 30 recordings to boot—few other ensembles of any kind can sport that sort of consistency and excellent. If one wishes to add—and I will—the emergence in 1966 of oboist Peter Christ’s Crystal Records, responsible for some of the most outstanding recordings of wind and brass players and ensembles, not to mention the essential launching pad for the music of Alan Hovhaness, then the legacy is all the more impressive.
This issue features music that is quite typical for the genre; serious pieces, though not profoundly so, coupled with what I like to call, not disparagingly, “silly pieces”. Why is this so? Because most wind quintets have found themselves in the position of introducing their groups to all sort of audiences, from young children to seasoned concert-going adults who nevertheless have never heard wind quintets play before. And unlike the brass quintet, whose instrumentation is often limited color-wise and depends on the personalities and antics of the performers, wind music is capable of an infinitesimal gradation of color and effects. Some of the thorniest modern music I have ever heard came at the hands of wind quintet performers, and also some of the cutest. Occasionally a Nielsen or Barber comes along and gives us something absolutely profound, but not often. Most of the time we get music like that found here, humorous, many times beauteous, and almost always exceedingly well-crafted.
And often quintets will divide up and tackle other scoring combinations also, as here. So we get varied combinations of trios, two wind quartets, and the traditional Quintet, reflected in the title work Rainbow Sundae (A Sweet for Children). The notes tell us that the titles of the four short movements—“Don’t Sit on the Cheese”, “Fish Fry Mama”, “Tingo Tango”, and “A Waltz for Lisa” don’t have any meaningful significance as far as the music goes, and aside from the inner working of the composer’s own creative impulses, but the results are delightful and amusing. The Concertino by Nikolai Tschemberdschi is one of the earliest works here, by an almost obscure Russian who penned it in 1938, and the work strikes me also as humorous in nature but in a less direct manner, more of a set of dances that inspire enjoyment and breeziness but not frivolity, and a terrific finale to the last-movement theme and variations.
Ripper’s Wind Trio is probably the most serious work on the disc, and the latest (2002). The central “Doloroso” is a funeral movement dedicated to the composer’s mother who died a few weeks before the work was created, and to me colors the entire piece, even though the outer two movements are anything but funereal in tone. The piece is decidedly tonal though almost ambiguously so in spots, and quite effective.
I won’t comment on the remaining three pieces—Berger, Piston, and Hartley—as they are all well-known composers and each approaches his respective task with all of the creativity and consideration that he brought to his larger-scale works. Suffice it to say that each is enjoyable, thoroughly professional, and well-designed for the instruments.
The sound here is typically Crystal, fairly close up though never claustrophobic, and recorded at a higher level than most, so you might want to adjust your settings. A very gratifying disc.