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MUSIC REVIEW

Berlin ensemble technically solid but lacks depth

November 05, 2002|Richard S. Ginell | Special to The Times

Even as Simon Rattle's glamorous debut as the Berlin Philharmonic's chief conductor occupies the international spotlight this fall, subsets within the orchestra continue their activities. One of them, the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet, turned up on the Coleman Chamber Music series at Caltech's Beckman Auditorium on Sunday afternoon.

The program that these musicians presented amply displayed their virtuosity but didn't provide much in the way of depth, alas. First came two trifles from the pen of Mozart by way of transcriptions -- the Fantasy in F minor, K. 594 that was originally dashed off for a mechanical organ, and the Adagio in B flat, K. 411, which sounded fuller and more balanced in this transcription than in the original version for two clarinets and three basset horns.

The galloping first and third movements of Anton Reich's Wind Quintet in D, Opus 91, No. 3 were taken at fast tempos that challenged the fingers and embouchures of even these skilled players. Holst's 1903 Quintet in A-flat, which wasn't performed until 1982, proved to be a surprisingly bland, conventionally structured piece, with hardly any of the composer's usual modal flavor and personality.

Of these works, only Nielsen's Wind Quintet -- which is loaded with the tang, bite and quirky signatures of his symphonies -- qualifies as an inspired piece, and it brought out the best in the five players, who reveled in the work's impatient humor.

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