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From Berlin, French Refinement

By Stephen Brookes
The Washington Post • October 3, 2007


Is it possible to be too refined, too polite, too well-bred when playing French woodwind music? Well -- possibly not. But at Shriver Hall on Sunday, the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet put the question to the test.

Over the past two decades, the group has carved out a commanding presence in the world of chamber music, with insightful interpretations, precise ensemble playing and a feel for blending wind sonorities that has rarely been matched. There was much to admire in Sunday's program, which focused on some of the most colorful and charismatic French music of the last century, from familiar works like Jean Francaix's playful Quintet No. 1 to little-known gems; Paul Taffanel's quietly tempestuous Quintet in G Minor in particular was a true delight, with much credit going to Michael Hasel on the wooden flute. The ensemble turned in a richly atmospheric reading of Samuel Barber's "Summer Music" (another mainstay of the repertoire, and the only non-French work on the program), while Darius Milhaud's "La Cheminee du Roi Rene" unfolded with subtle wit and almost obsessive attention to detail.

And yet, for all its elegance -- or maybe because of it -- the evening never really quite took off. Chamber music is so appealing partly because its small size allows for a sense of spontaneity and individual personality; the best performances can sound almost improvised. But the Berliners seemed to glide along efficiently on familiar, well-oiled rails, delivering a performance that was perfect down to its molecules, yet oddly lacking in the most important thing of all: life.

Posted on Friday, October 5, 2007 at 11:51AM by Registered CommenterStephen Brookes | CommentsPost a Comment

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