The eminent Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet (BPWQ) has recorded a number of discs for BIS, with their latest CD here featuring three composers born in what is now the Czech Republic. The disc opens with a wind quintet by Anton Reicha, who in the early 19th century ‘invented’ the entire genre, and closing with one of the absolute pinnacles in 20th-century chamber music for winds, namely Janáček’s Mládí (‘Youth’) from 1924.
One of the world’s foremost wind quintets meets one of today’s finest pianists in a work that many consider to be the best work for piano and winds: Poulenc’s Sextet, as well as works by other French composers. The composer himself called it ‘a homage to the wind instruments which I have loved from the moment I began composing’, and its cheeky character, virtuosic drive and catchy melodies are typical of his other writing for wind instruments. Poulenc also supplied the piano with a crucial – and virtuosic – part, however, including jazzy elements typical of the period as well as emotional outbursts in the manner of Rachmaninov.
The old model for creating a hit classical recording – big-name soloist plus big-name conductor in major repertory work – is not so common anymore, but this live Brahms recording from the Staatskapelle Berlin under Venezuela's Gustavo Dudamel, with Argentine-Israeli-Palestinian-Spanish pianist Daniel Barenboim as soloist, shows that there's life in the concept yet. One could point to the virtues of pianist and conductor separately: it's a rare septuagenarian who can combine power and clear articulation of detail the way Barenboim does, and Dudamel builds a vast sweep in, especially, the Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor, Op. 15. But it's the way that the two work together that really makes news. Chalk it up to shared South American heritage or to whatever the listener wants, but the way the orchestra and piano define separate spheres and work them together is extraordinary. Again, it is in the Piano Concerto No. 1 and its Beethovenian drama that their mutual understanding is most evident, but there is a sense of great variety powerfully unified throughout.