Composers from the so-called “national” schools, such as all three of those whose music is heard this evening, are often overlooked for their “absolute” music, on the faulty presumption that folk dances and colorful rustic atmosphere constitute the most important aspects of such music. In truth, each of these figures has contributed masterworks to the repertoire, including remarkable symphonies and concertos, in which nationalist elements are superseded by sheer musical strengths.
Denmark’s Carl Nielsen displayed an uncanny knack for the distinctive personalities of wind instruments in his larger scores, and it was his wish to compose a series of concertos for each of the players in the Copenhagen Wind Quintet; sadly, he lived to finish only two such works, the Flute Concerto and the Clarinet Concerto. We have an opportunity to imagine what the other three might have sounded like by savoring the colorful writing in Nielsen’s Wind Quintet, composed in 1922, following the mighty Fifth Symphony.
There is a congenial familiarity to the opening movement (at least to anyone who knows and loves Nielsen’s orchestral music) which is clearly unrelated to anything French or in the least bit jazzy. Complexity and simplicity are masterfully combined as themes interweave with accompanimental figures. An antique quality is on display in the second movement, quaintly designated as a Menuet (complete with central trio section). Then things get more serious: a slow, somber Praeludium introduces a series of variations. (In these movements, the oboist takes up the lower-pitched cor anglais for added emotional impact.) The theme (from a hymn of Nielsen’s own composition) is intoned by the ensemble, then recast in diverse ways through a sequence of eleven episodes, before an emphatic restatement concludes the Quintet.
– Dennis Bade is Associate Director of Publications for the Los Angeles Philharmonic Association.