Wind instruments a breath of fresh air for audience

03.06.08
Inon Barnatan
Denver Post

Most chamber-music concerts feature strings and piano, because of the dominance and popularity of repertoire focused on such instruments and the ubiquitousness of ensembles performing it.

But if string quartets and piano trios pervade the field, composers have written superb works for other combinations as well, and the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center is ideally structured to present them.

The respected New York City organization has a versatile roster of musicians on which it can draw, giving it the flexibility to perform music written for all manner of instrumental combinations.

Wednesday evening, that meant a program of rarely heard works incorporating wind instruments, when members of the society appeared in Gates Concert Hall for a thoroughly rewarding Friends of Chamber Music concert.

The only "name" among the five musicians was clarinetist David Shifrin, but they are all masters of their instruments, as quickly became clear during solos in the opener, Ludwig van Beethoven's Quintet in E flat major for Winds and Piano, Op. 16.

Getting the most time in the spotlight were oboist Stephen Taylor and bassoonist Peter Kolkay. These instruments usually don't get such starring roles, but it was easy to wonder if they aren't being shortchanged after hearing these two stellar players.

Both were featured in the program's most fascinating selections, works by 20th-century French composers who don't get heard very often, especially Jean Francaix.

His Divertissement for Oboe, Clarinet and Bassoon (1947) is a little gem, with its tightly interwoven harmonies and four quick movements that put the players through their paces, especially devilish twists and turns in the mischievous fourth section.

Francis Poulenc's delightful Trio for Piano, Oboe and Bassoon (1926) offered numerous solo opportunities for the three soloists. Deserving note is Inon Barnatan, an expressive, nimble-fingered young pianist worth watching.

Crowning the program was yet another masterpiece by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, the Quintet in E flat major for Winds and Piano, K. 452, with all the composer's usual effervescent elegance.