January 20, 2014 3:47 pm

Haffner Wind Ensemble, Kings Place, London – review

The year-long Chamber Classics Unwrapped series got off to an adventurous start

For the past few years Kings Place has put a year-long thematic series at the heart of its music programming. So far each has focused on a single composer, but for 2014 something different is proposed: Chamber Classics Unwrapped will offer the 50 most popular works from the chamber music repertoire, as decided by an online vote.

At first sight this looks an unambitious project, narrowing its sights to a Greatest Hits line-up. But Kings Place is allowing each group of performers to put together their own programmes and the result is that its chosen 50 “Chamber Classics” are being surrounded with some imaginative companion pieces.

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This recital by the Haffner Wind Ensemble could hardly have been more adventurous. The main work was Nielsen’s Wind Quintet – number 50 in the ballot, perhaps surprisingly (no Mozart string quartets made the cut, or any Haydn at all) – and the route to it started out from a solo work, passing through a duet, trio and quartet, adding one extra instrument each time.

All the music came from the 20th century. After Johan Kvandal’s Salmetone for solo horn summoned attention, there was a burst of energy in Thea Musgrave’s Impromptu No.1 for flute and oboe, a witty catch-me-if-you-can duet for the two instruments that whets the appetite for the Musgrave “Total Immersion” day at the Barbican next month. Malcolm Arnold’s typically bright-eyed Divertimento for flute, oboe and clarinet was hardly less delightful and it was only a shame that Frank Bridge’s Divertimenti for wind quartet seemed rather dry by comparison afterwards.

In each the Haffner Wind Ensemble, all leading members of the Britten Sinfonia, played with an infectious zest, and the wind quintets that followed were no exception. The Quintet for winds by John Harbison is a strong, concentrated work that might have come across better if it had not been placed at the end of a long first half. Martin Butler’s Down-Hollow Winds, with its echoes of Stravinsky, was immediately engaging and made a satisfying connection, at last, to the Nielsen – a deserving “Chamber Classic”, sounding as young at heart as ever and brilliantly played here.


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