Bentzon’s Wind Quintets


BENTZON: Variations for Wind Quintet, Op. 21. Bop Quintet, Op. 80. Wind Quintets Nos. 3 & 5 / The Carl Nielsen Quintet / Dacapo 8226127

This CD features the music of Niels Viggo Bentzon (1919-2000), who wrote “nearly 1,000 works in every known classical genre and style.” The Carl Nielsen Quintet, formed in 2006, is comprised of young musicians who also hold posts in Danish and Swedish orchestras.

Judging from the opening piece, a set of variations for winds, Bentzon’s harmonic language was modern but not abrasive. He was a whimsical outlier, sort of a Danish Poulenc or Ibert, if you will, and he evidently had a quiet sense of humor which shows itself in this work. He takes his theme through a number of interesting permutations, moving both the thematic material and the underlying harmonies around like a Tinkertoy set, always unexpectedly but always interestingly. In Variation III, for example, he uses some pregnant pauses in the musical progression to entice the listener, and in Variation IV a bouncy 6/8 rhythm with some whimsical inner metric movement within certain bars. It’s the kind of music that’s perfect for a lazy Sunday afternoon when you want to hear something that is a little challenging but not abrasive. It’s one of those pieces that grows on you as you listen to it.

I’m not sure, however, why he named the next piece a “bop” quintet, as neither the rhythms nor the harmonies are reflective of American bop jazz, at least not until a little over halfway through the first movement where he introduces some syncopations, but this, too is a nice, whimsical piece with some interesting and irregular rhythms.

Being totally unfamiliar with these works, I couldn’t say whether or not the Carl Nielsen Quintet’s very “cool” approach is what Bentzon wanted or not, but to my ears it works. Quirky but charming, the music works on a subtle level that makes it intriguing. In the opening movement of the Wind Quintet No. 3, for instance, Bentzon introduced some “snaky” rhythms in a few bars, which pulled the music in an entirely different direction from the rest of it, and this seems pretty typical of his musical expression. The “Scherzino” in this quintet meanders along a chipper, bouncy, syncopated 4/4, and Bentzon clearly had his own way of moving the instruments around in different combinations and voicings within the quintet format.

Bottom line: for “light” classical music, this is one intriguing and pleasing disc. You really need to hear it!

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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