north east scotland's festival of new music

press reviews

The Galliard Ensemble

Written by Alan Cooper


Founded in 1993, The Galliard Ensemble is a standard wind quintet: flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn. Its members first got together as students at the Royal Academy of Music. Their programme on Monday for Aberdeen Chamber Music Concerts was a remarkably generous one. With the aims of the Sound Festival in mind, it included some of the most iconic pieces for wind quintet published in the twentieth century, though of course, to be truly contemporary we should perhaps have had something from the twenty-first century as well.

However the Ensemble opened their programme with music by a composer who could really be said to have set the ground rules for wind ensemble writing, just as Haydn did for the string quartet, namely Mozart. The genesis of his Quintet in c minor K406 is complex. Music for a wind octet, K388 was re-arranged by the composer himself for string quintet and it is most often recorded in that format though it is still a favourite with wind quintet players and the Galliard Ensemble proved that it works spectacularly well in that format. The powerful unison opening recalls, entirely by coincidence, the opening of Purcell's Rondeau from Abdelazer or even its reincarnation in Britten's Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra. The rich sonority of the Galliard's bassoon player Helen Simons added to the initial impression of that very exciting opening and the power and facility of her playing was a notable feature throughout this whole work.

The playing of the entire ensemble gave this music a richness of texture, depth of colour and a certain raw excitement that the string version does not have in quite the same way.

Just as Mozart's Quintet was not entirely in its purest sense a work for winds, György Ligeti derived his Six Bagatelles (1953) from a recomposition of six out of eleven piano pieces entitled Musica Ricercata (1951-53). Composed at a time when Ligeti had not yet made the leap towards more experimental music, the Six Bagatelles owe quite a bit to the Hungarian folk inspirations of Bartok, and the fifth movement is in fact marked "Bela Bartok in memoriam". Here however, Ligeti's creative power makes the music entirely his own. It bubbles over with exciting and appealing ideas, textures and instrumental colours and the Galliard Ensemble gave a performance that brought out the strength of the music through the forcefulness of their playing.

However it was with Hindemith's Kleine Kammermusik that their playing reached its full zesty potential. The angular often spiky melodies and the dry wit of what have been called Hindemith's Brandenburgs came through in a splendidly powerful and incisive performance. The fourth movement in which each player is called upon to give a short cadenza was an opportunity seized by every one of them with vim and verve.

Going back again to Mozart, it was his Sinfonia Concertante for winds that inspired Nielsen to compose his Wind Quintet in A Op.43. After Nielsen's own very personal exploration of sonata form and a Menuet with a particularly characterful trio section it was really the splendid virtuoso variations of the final movement that had the playing catch fire once more. A ferocious duo between clarinet and bassoon, a lively variation for the bassoonist herself and a blazing horn solo were foremost among the delights of this movement.

We had already heard an earlier work by Ligeti and nowadays, the early twelve-tone compositions by Arvo Pärt are completely eclipsed by his later "holy minimalist" music. However, the Galliard Ensemble gave us a performance of his Quintettino Op.13. The insistent repetitions especially in the opening movement were perhaps a foretaste of what was to come although the aggressiveness of these bore no resemblance at all to the simple luminescence of his later writing. There was also an odd gesture, possibly of the two fingers variety, and possibly aimed at the Soviet authorities that concluded this work. In American vaudeville and burlesque theatre it was known as "Shave and a haircut… two bits". I wonder if Arvo Pärt, or indeed the Soviet authorities knew where it came from and what it meant.

The final piece in the official programme was Comedy for Five winds by the English composer Paul Patterson, professor of composition at the Royal Academy of Music. It was full of humorous touches and with a liberal admixture of jazz inspiration although in the opinion of one member of the audience who is a seasoned expert in the world of jazz: "These classical musicians just don't know how to swing!"

Well, be that as it may, and he is probably right, they did make a fair stab at it with their encore, Norman Hallam's Charleston. By the way, don't ask what real jazz is. Any seasoned practitioner of that particular art will tell you that if you have to ask, you ain't ever gonna know!

  • published on 8 November 2010
  • written by Alan Cooper

Reproduced with permission of the author.

reviewed event
  Date Day Time Location Event Details
8Mon 7.30 pmAberdeenGalliard Ensemble