On any given night in New York, there are literally dozens - hundreds - of music events competing for your attention. Most of which are well above grade. But, you could do far worse than the recital I heard last Friday at the Tenri Cultural Institute, a multi-use space dedicated to Japanese culture tucked into 13th Street, adjacent to the New School's Mannes School of Music. The New York Woodwind Quintet, now in it's 70th (!) season, consists of veteran wind players Charles Neidich (clarinet), William Purvis (horn), Marc Goldberg (bassoon), Stephen Taylor (oboe), and Carol Wincenc (flute), all of whom have been with the group for at least three decades.
The first half of Friday's program featured a pair of 20th century works which put the range and expertise of these veteran players on full display. John Harbison's Quintet for Winds (1978) is bright, flavor-forward music that ranged from a tender and emotional Romanza to an Allegro finale that had an almost cartoonish quality, full of squeaks and squawks. By contrast, György Kurtág's Woodwind Quintet (1959) was spare and uncompromising, leaving you with a haunting sense of unease. Goldberg, who performed the work for Kurtág at Marlboro 20 years ago, told the audience that the composer spent a full week with he and his fellow musicians preparing this 8 minute piece.
After intermission, the quintet was joined by pianist Bryan Wagorn - who among other roles is Associate Conductor of the Metropolitan Opera - to perform the Brahms Piano Quartet, Op. 25, arranged by the quintet's founding flutist, Samuel Baron. At first, I had a hard time wrapping my head around the idea of winds playing this driving, propulsive music, which has long been one of my favorite pieces of chamber music. But, once I embraced the arrangement on its own terms, I appreciated the clean lines of the winds, which paired surprisingly well with Wagorn's spot-on piano and brought out colors and textures I'd never heard before. "As winds," Neidich told us beforehand, "we don't have the same balance issues (as strings.)" The concluding Rondo didn't pack quite the same visceral punch as I've grown accustomed to, but the players did pick up the pace over the final few bars, generating a loud and well-deserved ovation.
This recital was presented as part of Neidich's ongoing WA Concert Series ("WA" is a Japanese word meaning "harmony and completeness") which, in addition to incredible music, includes a free buffet (with wine) during intermission and after the performance. Highly recommended: the final concert of the WA Concert season will be on Friday May 10 at the Tenri Center, featuring Denmark's Ensemble Midtvest in a program of music by Nielsen, Mozart, Mahler and Dohnányi.