The woodwinds got their turn in the limelight at Friday night’s concert, which featured four pieces, including three works written for large ensembles that included multiple oboes, bassoons, and clarinets. The ebulliently sardonic John Steinmetz led both the reeds and the Adrian Spence jeering section with customary aplomb. The opening number was Franz Krommer’s Octet-Partita in B flat Major, Op. 78. It gave the Camerata’s virtuoso first clarinet, Bil Jackson, plenty to work with, especially in the ultra-fast finale. For those not already familiar with this composer, his writing most closely resembles that of Mozart, and his specialty was the very difficult task of writing for larger wind ensembles.
Next up was Charles Gounod’s Petite Symphonie-25 minutes of exquisite Frenchness scored for nine players. Spence joined the group for this one, and despite the protestations of Steinmetz, his flute was an engaging lead voice. It is always great to hear this miniature masterpiece from the composer of Faust, and it’s even more special when it is played by musicians of this caliber.
The short piece that began the second half of the program, Charles Koechlin’s A Trio for Flute, Clarinet, and Bassoon, was the evening’s most pleasant surprise. Floating and ethereal, it gave the sense that some profound musical thinking was going on without lapsing into the merely theoretical or atmospheric.
As is often the case with Camerata Pacifica, the best was saved for last. After exploring the various colors and sonorities available to wind ensembles in the opening three pieces, a group of 12 musicians assembled to play Antonin DvoÅ¡k’s Serenade for Winds in E Major, Op. 44. To point out the marches and Czech folk dances that contribute material to this gorgeous musical mosaic hardly does justice to the sophisticated compositional sensibility it expresses. The syncopated horns in the third section beat against a hypnotic ground of warm, pulsating strings as the oboe and the clarinet utter idea after idea. When the finale comes, it is as though DvoÅ¡k has discovered a new form-an opera for the reeds.