The ARUNDOSquintett Plays Modern Music

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BLOMENKAMP: 7 Desserts Rhythmiques. TROJAHN: Sonata No. 3. GUTH: NGOMA. LIGETI: 6 Bagatelles / ARUNDOSquintett: Anna Saha, fl; Yoshihiko Shimo, oboe; three others / Audite 97.798

This is the kind of nonsense I have to go through nowadays in order to review CDs I like. Origin, the debut CD of the young, up-and-coming ARUNDOS wind quintet, was not available for me to download. I had to wait until it popped up on the Naxos Music Library, and all I could get was the CD cover image and the music…no booklet, absolutely no info on the composers or performers. I located their Facebook page were, to my frustration, only two of the five musicians were named. Sometimes I feel more like Sherlock Holmes than a music reviewer.

I even had to look up three of the composers performed here because I had no clue who they were. Thomas Blomenkamp is a German composer, no date of birth available online. Manfred Trojahn (b. 1949) is a German composer, flautist, conductor and writer. Maximilian Guth is a much younger-looking German composer, no birth date found online. Well, at least we all know who György Ligeti was!

Blomenkamp’s 7 Desserts Rhythmiques opens up with a cheerful little ditty, “Sempre piano e leggiero,” in a medium-tempo 6/8 time. It is very accessible music, sounding much like the wind quintets of Françaix or Poulenc, only with a German accent. But remember, these are titled “Desserts,” meaning that they are clearly intended to be after-dinner treats, not a main course, and the music is palatable indeed. The ARUNDOSquintett plays with a light, airy quality, and at least in these works do not project much in the way of emotion, but this music probably isn’t supposed to be played emotionally anyway.

Trojahn’s Sonata No. 3 is meatier but still approachable music using dissonant chording for the instruments within a lyrical framework. Once again, however, I felt a reticence on the part of the ARUNDOSquintett to give their all to this music from an emotional standpoint, although there is more energy here than in their performance of the Blomenkamp suite. There were moments when I felt that the music was more interesting than their performance of it, particularly when the tempo picks up in the first movement and the individual lines for the five instruments intersect in a wild, zig-zag fashion. The “Scherzo” is particularly whimsical, even a bit ironic, and this the quintet played very well indeed. The last movement, “Molto adagio,” is quite a bit faster than an adagio, and may be the most interesting and complex movement of the three, and here the ARUNDOSquintett really does get into the spirit of the music quite well.

Guth’s NGOMA is another modern-but-accessible piece, here a work that opens in a slow tempo with some interesting non-musical effects added by the musicians. At the 3:10 mark, it suddenly becomes much livelier, using crisp but irregular rhythms to make its point in a sequence of sharp chords before moving on to the development section. A nice piece, but after a while it just got stuck in one chord and didn’t say a whole lot to me.

In terms of both music and performance, however, the real gems on this set are Ligeti’s 6 Bagatelles, played with zest and drive by the quintet. In fact, this may be the best performance I’ve yet heard of them: beautiful tones, perfect blends, and just the right amount of drive and “bite” in the playing.

In toto, then, an interesting recording in terms of repertoire—which I clearly enjoyed—but just a bit of reticence in some of the playing. If the ARUNDOSquintett were to loosen up a little more in all of their performances as they did in the Trojahn and Ligeti pieces, they would clearly be a first-rate ensemble.

—© 2022 Lynn René Bayley

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