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From the Levine, Unpolished Gems

By Stephen Brookes
The Washington Post  September 22, 2007

Of the many great accomplishments of the 20th century -- penicillin, jazz, on-time pizza delivery -- the wealth of new music for wind quintet must surely rank close to the top. There's not much of interest from earlier centuries; Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms and the other gods pretty much ignored the genre. But as the Levine Woodwind Quintet demonstrated at the Mansion at Strathmore on Thursday night, there's a rich repertoire from the last century to be mined -- with a number of strikingly beautiful gems.

The pensive Sir Malcolm
Take, for instance, the two works that opened the program: Vincent Persichetti's 1951 "Pastoral" and Irving Fine's "Partita," a set of free variations from 1949. There's no harsh, midcentury thorniness here; these -- like the rest of the works that were on the program -- are melodic, light-filled pieces that delight in the flavorful sonorities of the woodwinds. There was, as you'd expect, some inward-looking pensiveness in Malcolm Arnold's "Divertimento" (for flute, oboe and clarinet), and Shostakovich brought his trademark irony to his two "Preludes" (for flute, bassoon and clarinet). But the overall tone of the evening was best evoked by Darius Milhaud's "La Cheminee du Roi Rene": lighthearted, highly sophisticated and immensely pleased with itself.

While it was a fascinating program, though, the execution fell a bit short. The lightness and quick wit of this music demands a deft touch and razor-sharp precision, which wasn't always in evidence. And despite some fine individual performances, the Levine players didn't have their ensemble playing fully under control, and many of the pieces felt under-rehearsed and lacking in confidence -- a performance more dutiful than exuberant.

Posted on Saturday, September 22, 2007 at 02:17PM by Registered CommenterStephen Brookes | CommentsPost a Comment

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