Czech wind CHSA5348

Echoes of Bohemia: Czech Music for Wind
Pavel Haas (1899-1944)
Quintet for wind instruments, Op.10 (1929)
Antoine Reicha (1770-1836)
Quintet, Op.88 No.2 (1811-17)
Leoš Janáček (1854-1928)
Mládi, suite for wind instruments, JW.VII/10 (1924)
Bohuslav Martinů (1890-1959)
Sextet in E flat major for Winds, H.174 (1929)
Orsino Ensemble
Peter Sparks (bass clarinet), Llinos Owen (bassoon), James Baillieu (piano)
rec. 2022, St Michael’s Church, Highgate, London
Chandos CHSA5348 SACD [74]

Czech wind music has a long and distinguished history which fortunately has been reflected in its legacy on disc. The trick lies in the programming. To avoid an all-twentieth-century repertoire the Orsino Ensemble and their confreres – a British ensemble which includes such distinguished players as flautist Adam Walker and oboist Nicholas Daniel – has decided to embrace the expansive charms of the Prague-born but cosmopolitan traveller Antoine Reicha, or Antonín Rejcha. Thus, it gives the disc a kind of historical overview of the Czech wind lineage.

Reicha’s Quintet is a loquacious, conversational affair from one of the masters of the genre. He pairs different combinations of instruments together with delightful felicity, and the bubbly horn writing – played by Alec Frank-Gemmill – is a constant delight. Daniel’s oboe shines in particular in the slow movement, the music’s soulful cantilena preparing the ground for the genial, well-balanced finale. Dynamics are well shaped here, the players listening closely to each other. It’s a well-paced reading, too, coming in at 28 minutes, halfway between the Michael Thompson Wind Ensemble on Naxos – a rather generous 32 minutes – and the Albert Schweitzer Quintet on cpo at 25. The latter ensemble has been engaged on a heroic multi-volume Reicha recording project.

The Berlin Philharmonic Wind Ensemble on Bis has also recorded this – they take a quite zippy tempo at 24 minutes – and have also included the Martinů and Janáček works, which means they put up stiff competition to the Orsino Ensemble who have also included them, adding Pavel Haas’s Quintet. When it comes to the Martinů, I’d be happy with either but still prefer the old Prague Wind Soloists and Jan Panenka on Supraphon. The Czech group is slightly more incisive in the Blues movement, which is the movement that most reminds one of La revue du cuisine, though the Orsino Ensemble’s pianist James Baillieu proves creditable in his Stride passages and there are fine exchanges throughout.

Janáček’s Mládi has become something of a wind standard now and tempi seem to be established, with ensembles such as the Prague Wind Quintet, the London Sinfonietta players, and the more recent Belfiato ensemble on Supraphon all taking near-identical tempos. The Orsino Ensemble’s performance is crisp and tight and I especially appreciated Walker’s piccolo playing – pipy and lithe. The Belfiato have also recorded Haas – alongside Janáček and Foerster – and they tend to be a touch more reflectively pastoral, whereas the Orsino group is that much more insistent. This is of a piece with their respective performances, most tellingly depicted in the third movement, a stylised dance – which booklet writer Jan Smaczny terms a ‘joky march’ – where the Orsinos are more knockabout than the Belfiato. I would happily take both but incline to the less aggressive, more consonant Belfiato.

The church acoustic has been well judged and there’s no sense of billowy or unfocused sound, rather a warm, uncloying well-cushioned directness. There isn’t – or, at least, I’ve not been able to find – an exact competitor to this disc so the excellence of the performances stands in the Chandos team’s favour as does the adventurous repertoire. Carping critics like me may suggest alternatives in individual works but overall this is a highly effective disc.

Jonathan Woolf

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