ROCKPORT — It was approximately 8:15 p.m., the New York Woodwind Quintet was playing Hindemith on the stage of Rockport’s Shalin Liu Performance Center, the light was fading from the sky above the Atlantic beyond the large picture window, and I was thinking about sushi. Salmon cucumber rolls, to be exact: five ingredients with distinct individual flavors, all combined in harmony without any losing its identity. And so it was with the five musicians of the quintet and their instruments (Carol Wincenc, flute; Stephen Taylor, oboe; Charles Neidich, clarinet; Marc Goldberg, bassoon; and William Purvis, horn) in their Rockport Chamber Music Festival appearance Thursday night. The Juilliard ensemble performed in constant equilibrium.
Each half of the program included two pieces from the early 20th century, with a piece from centuries past sandwiched between. The aforementioned Hindemith piece, “Kleine Kammermusik” for wind quintet, was playful in its five quick movements, with satisfying chiaroscuro in the oboe’s interactions with the bassoon. There is little pre-20th century material for wind quintet, and Purvis arranged the older pieces for that instrumentation. The first of these, a fantasy by Mozart, was originally a commission for a self-playing organ, and according to the thorough program notes by Sandra Hyslop, the composer detested the assignment. Fortunately, Purvis seemingly does not bear the same animosity — the piece was charming and probably more texturally interesting in its wind quintet arrangement than its original version.
Pavel Haas’s Wind Quintet bounced along on bassoon oom-pahs reminiscent of klezmer music and Neidich rolled a bit of swing and swagger into his clarinet as it wailed on top of a gently swaying sonic backdrop. After intermission, a jumpy, punchy rendition of Elliott Carter’s short Wind Quintet gave each instrument its own distinct character. In contrast, Purvis’s arrangement of two Monteverdi madrigals, simmering with passion, showed us how the instruments could blend in their unique way.
Pianist Mihae Lee joined the ensemble for Poulenc’s Sextet for Piano and Winds, and so the evening ended with its most picturesque, sweeping piece. Everything up until that point had been quite good, but compared to the Poulenc, all the other music sounded distant in retrospect. The sound leapt off the stage in crisp bursts of staccato and streamers of scales, with a giddy calliope rhythm in the second movement. It teemed with as much life as the sea beyond the window.
NEW YORK WOODWIND QUINTET
At Shalin Liu Performance Center, Rockport, June 29.Zoë Madonna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten. Madonna’s work is supported by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.