Calefax Reed Quintet, Apr 15

Calefax

By Scott MacClelland

THOSE IN THE AUDIENCE WHO DEPARTED after the final work on the Calefax Quintet concert Friday night in Carmel missed one of the best bits, the encore. They might feel it was a trick since before playing their arrangement of Gershwin’s An American in Paris the Calefax five had already said goodnight.

But then something extraordinary happened. The players returned to the stage to dance and play their arrangement of the haunting Andante religioso from Edvard Grieg’s Holberg Suite. Like so many Grieg pieces, this one stands apart from its context, which otherwise celebrates the eponymous 18th century Dano-Norwegian poet/playwright. Somehow, it captured the Calefax players’ imagination to arrange, memorize and choreograph their version, which clicked on all cylinders.

No matter how they construct a program the quintet are obliged to make arrangements for their unique instrumentation—oboe/cor anglais, saxophones (soprano and alto), clarinet, bass clarinet and bassoon—or commission new works. In this case, the program consisted of arrangements by three of the members.

They cleared the air at the start of their concert with a prelude and fugue (in E-flat) from JS Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier. Straightaway they launched into their arrangement of Waldszenen, a suite of nine ‘forest pictures’ for piano by Robert Schumann. The first of them, a kind of prelude, made clear once again the lifelong influence Schumann had on his protégé Brahms. Next came “The Hunter Lying in Wait” and later “The Hunter’s Song,” both with horn-call imitations. “Bird as Prophet” was sneaky and mysterious.

For Till Eulenspiegel by Richard Strauss, the alto sax achieved a remarkable resemblance to the sound of a (French) horn. The various tunes were tossed about among the players. However there would be one conspicuous omission: the drum roll that escorts the rascal Till to the gallows. Only an eerie silence filled the gap.

The evening’s second half opened with seven piano etudes by the 22-year-old Alexander Scriabin. They ranged from haunting to playful. Then, immediately, Gershwin’s An American in Paris, lasting about as long as the Schumann and Scriabin each. This more than anything else instantly brought the audience to its feet for a sustained ovation.

Then the Grieg, which as one person told me, was best of show. (This concert is scheduled for a KUSP broadcast on the morning of May 29.)

Years after Calefax had taken their unusual moniker, they discovered that it was the name of a long-shuttered construction company that specialized in marine engines for Amsterdam and Rotterdam. This was Calefax’s second appearance for Chamber Music Monterey Bay. If they return, it would seem only appropriate to hear some water music.

For 2016-17, CMMB’s 50th season, some favorites from the past are returning: The St. Lawrence String Quartet (who will reprise The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind by Osvaldo Golijov), Trio Solisti, Kalichstein-Laredo-Robinson Trio, Daedalus Quartet and, in a solo recital, pianist Jon Nakamatsu.