This is a phenomenal collection of interesting pieces for wind ensemble--the musicianship is first rate, and the music itself, although generally not well known (aside from the Dvorak Serenade) is both beautiful and thought provoking. This disc features wonderful performances of carefully selected repertoire--the program is well balanced with popular (Dvorak) and less popular peices, and between more classical (Dvorak) and more modern (Janacek) styles. The disk is also a bargian--a must for any fan of woodwinds or Czeck composers.
Although these superb Oslo Philharmonic wind players have tough competition in the Dvorak (the St. Paul and Orpheus Chamber Orchestras are two of my favorites), they deliver an excellent performance. One the whole, the Dvorak tempos are brisk (this is one of the fastest recordings), which works to the advantage of the minuet and the finale. Although this reduces the "march" feeling of the first movement and the exquisite and sensuous dreaminess of the third movement, it does prevent these movements from dragging on, and gives the entire performance the ambiance of a light-hearted serenade--probably what Dvoark intended--and not a heavy symphony. The third movement is beautiful on this recording, with each individual player singing his line beautifully. The brisk last movement features a hair-raising finale, one of the highlights of the entire performance.
The Enescu piece is similarly fantastic. Perhaps one of the outstanding qualities of this piece--its beautiful instrumentation (including flutes, oboe, clarinets, english horn, french horn, and bassoons)--has also worked to the detriment of the piece's popularity (where can you find so many musicians!). The piece, for me, evokes a number of styles combining to make a generous and gentle serenade ambiance: the spiraling Sraussian melodies and chord progressions/resolution, Debussian textures (the movements are titled in French), and Schubertian simplicity. The first movement features gorgeous unfolding melodies modulating into beautiful tonal progressions. The second movement opens with gentle octaves and a flute ostinato (evoking Stravinsky's neoclassicism or Debussy's anti-expressionism) and weaves a quick middle section into a recapitulation of the movement's slow main theme. The third and last movement has a lighter side that brings the piece to its conclusion. Proving that he was not merely a sappy super-romantic, Enescu uses contrapuntal textures throughout the work. The Oslo Philharmonic players sing with beautiful ensemble work--blending of tones, perfect intonation, and consistent articulation and shaping of phrases. At times, they even sound like a full orchestra.
Though not as rare as the Enescu, the Janacek is also less frequently performed, perhaps because it has so much competition in the wind-quintet repertorie. Here, Janacek is seemingly experimenting with many different styles, evocative of similar episodes in the wind quintets of Nielsen and Hindemith (Kleine Kammermusic, op. 24 #2). Parts of the work have an 'etude' feel, but the Oslo players execute wonderfully. For instance, the first and third movements have passages of devilish syncopation; the last movement has the french horn playing repetitive sixteenth-notes (double-tounging) while the oboe, flute and clarinet sing folksy melodies. The Oslo players fill this score with color and liveliness appropriate to the styles of each of the work's varying movements.
Even if you already own a recording of the Dvorak, this disk is well worth the price--you'll own another, probably different Dvorak interpretation and have two other gems on the side. I just wish the liner notes were not so skimpy and said more about these beautiful peices of music and the musicians who play them.