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A highly talented wind quintet

West Somerset Free Press, Trevor L Sharpe

The policy of the Minehead and West Somerset Arts Society has always been to encourage and support young musicians early in their professional careers, and the recent visit of the Galliard Ensemble – a highly talented wind quintet – showed clearly that the enthusiasm of youth combined with exceptional instrumental skills make for an evening’s entertainment of first-class quality.

Their strong interest in 20th century music was reflected in their choice of programme, which they performed with dazzling confidence, making light of the technical difficulties as to the manner born.

Only Mozart’s Marriage of Figaro overture, which opened the programme, could be said to be at all familiar to the audience, and this arrangement for wind ensemble fairly buzzed its happy way, oblivious of the fact that strings should have been there somewhere.

The score of Holst’s Wind Quintet Op.14 was lost for many years, and it is an early work which gives little indication of the course the composer was to follow in later life. The ensemble gave an affectionate and cool performance of this charming and unpretentious piece which deserves to be better known. Debussy’s Petite Suite, however, is another work more familiar in a different guise, and the Galliards captured its “period prettiness” (to quote one of ‘Debussy’s biographers) to perfection, with the right amount of attention to detail allowing the interplay of the five instruments to be heard. Samuel Barber’s Summer Music is a favourite of wind groups; it is at first acquaintance not particularly summery, and bestrides the gulf between classicism and romanticism in a somewhat uneasy way, seeming to sheer away from emotional appeal. Nevertheless, the young performers were at home in the idiom and played it with understanding. By choosing a very slow tempo, they brought out its sultry character and recreated the atmosphere of an American summer.

The centrepiece of the evening was Nielsen’s great Quintet, probably the finest work ever composed for this grouping of instruments. Not only does it give opportunities for the individual players to shine, but its rather quirky character is so designed as to demonstrate the enormous range of expression of which the five instruments are capable. The Galliards rose to the challenge nobly, and each member showed team spirit as well as individual brilliance – a performance of distinction in a work which demands maturity as well as great technical skill from its players.

The programme ended with Ibert’s delectable Three Short Pieces, trifles of great wit and typically Gallic elegance, a splendid choice to round off a varied and very warmly received evening’s entertainment.

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21/10/2020