Most certainly, the Chamber Music Society of Williamsburg’s second program of the season was highly refreshing and different. Not the usual string quartet or piano quintet or variations thereof, Ensemble 4.1 was welcomed breath of fresh air, made more evident by the fact that four of the five members are wind players.
Called the only touring piano windtet of its kind, 4.1 consists of an oboe, clarinet, bassoon, French horn and piano. The players are considered the crème de la crème of their respective instruments, highlighted by pianist Thomas Hoppe who has notable and extensive credits in this country and beyond, serving in the lauded Atos Trio, as well as partnering with the likes of Itzhak Perlman and Joshua Bell.
Formed four years ago, Germany’s 4.1 offers a potpourri of music, everything from Mozart and Beethoven to rarely heard works of the 19th and 20th centuries, with a bit of modern in the mix. Tuesday’s program in the Williamsburg Regional Library Theatre provided a fine sampling of all of the above. That it was part of the group’s first United States tour made the musical moments all the more special.
Throughout fare that featured Beethoven’s Quintet in E-flat major, Avner Dorman’s “Jerusalem Mix,” and Heinrich von Herzogenberg’s Quintet in E-flat major, 4.1 exhibited a superb blend of sound, technique and musicianship. Extraordinary balance was notable in that in many piano ensembles of varying composition, the piano often seems to end up controlling more sound space than its cohorts. With 4.1, other than solo-type moments, Hoppe’s fine touch keyboard skill allowed the piano to be an integral part of the composite, solid sound. Jorg Schneider, oboe; Christoph Knitt, bassoon; Alexander Glucksmann, clarinet; and Fritz Pahlmann, horn; completed the roster.
Having played (French horn) in similar groups, I appreciated the difficulty involved in an ensemble of this sort. The physical effort in the winds in pushing controlled air through single and double reeds and, figuratively speaking, miles of brass tubing to produce such pure sounds with perfectly modulated vibrato and impeccable intonation as heard here is no easy feat. The results were glowing.
The group’s keen attention to detail and nuance was evident in the constant physical movement and reaction to musical line and constant eye contact between each other during the works to ensure perfect compatibility. It was exemplary.
The opening Beethoven is basically a cheery piece, its first and third movements nicely balanced and enhanced by a delicate Andante with piano filigree of great pleasure. Similarly did the closing Quintet of 19th-century and seldom-heard Herzogenberg offer lyrical listening much of which reflected his influence by Brahms. A gentle work with beautiful lines and harmonies, it was given a caring and mighty appealing hearing.
The Dorman, though, was the fare’s high point. This 42-year-old prolific composer has produced a vast number of works for orchestras, film, dance and just about every possible combination of instruments. His “Jerusalem Mix,” written as tribute to the spirit of Jerusalem, is exciting and colorful. It‘s filled with Judaic, Christian and Islamic musical references that are expressive in spirit and emotion, the “Wailing Wall” portion being a particularly poignant and dramatic segment. From the opening “Mix” depicting the hustle of the city to the somewhat giddy “Wedding March” to the “Adhan,” during which Hoppe struck strings inside the piano for colorful effect, to the last portion’s return of frenzy found in the opening, the work was highly creative, compelling and emotionally thoughtful and fun. What a rewarding time spent with 4.1. It was a perfect 4.0.