Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Sts. Simon and Jude Church
January 25

Playing with a touch of divine inspiration. 

Who could resist an opportunity to see two wind quintets on the same bill? The well-regarded Afflatus Quintet was joined by the younger Belfiato Quintet last night for a program of mostly French composers, a refreshing change from Prague’s usual chamber music fare. They nearly filled Sts. Simon and Jude Church, and by the end of the performance, it was clear why.

The first half of the concert belonged to the Afflatus Quintet, a group of very accomplished players. Flutist Roman Novotný, oboist Jana Brožková and bassoonist Ondřej Roskovec are all members of the Czech Philharmonic. Clarinet player Vojtěch Nýdl is a member of the Prague Philharmonia, and Radek Baborák, an artist-in-residence with the Prague Symphony Orchestra this season, normally plays French horn with the Berlin Philharmonic. They warmed up with an opening Haydn divertimento, lending a light musical exercise some weight with lustrous tones and a steady, restrained tempo.

The second piece, Darius Milhaud’s Le Chiminée du Roi René, is a suite from a film score written for Raymond Bernard’s Cavalcade d’amour, released in 1940. A standard in the wind quintet repertoire, it poses a good workout, with shifting melodies, nimble turns and quick, short runs. The group handled them with aplomb, showing the style that characterizes much of their playing – thoughtful but spirited, a masterful blend of intelligence and feeling. They took that sound up a notch for Ferenc Farkas’ Early Hungarian Dances of the 17th Century, a reworking of some anonymous period dance melodies. The quintet gave them a crisp, lively edge, earning an enthusiastic round of applause.

The next generation of wind wizards.
The second half of the concert opened with nine musicians onstage – the Afflatus five, and oboist Martin Daněk, clarinetist Jiří Javůrek, bassoonist Ondřej Šindelář and French horn player Kateřina Javůrková of the Belfiato Quintet, a group of recent graduates and protégés of Roskovec. The larger ensemble’s sound was fuller and deeper, but no less tight for Gounod’s Petite symphonie, a piece brimming with bright colors and inventive tones. The nontet gave it a vibrant glow, taking expert advantage of the layers of sound, and playing with warmth without sacrificing any precision.

Flutist Oto Reiprich made it 10 when he joined the group for Jean Françaix’s Les Malheurs de Sophie, a brilliant evocation of a child’s world. The piece was immediately engaging and the energy of the performance was infectious, playful and fast-paced. The combined ensembles proved adept at handling modern phrasing and chords, and Novotný finished with a flashy bit of flute work that drew cheers.

Compared to much of the recent classical music on Prague stages, in particular the gargantuan Mahler symphonies, this concert was like brain candy, small bites of sweeter and simpler fare. But there is a purity about wind ensemble music, especially played at this level, that is invigorating. The sound has the clarity of a fresh mountain stream, and as it builds in complexity, it serves as a reminder of how much can be accomplished with just a few instruments.

Afflatus” is a Latin term for inspiration, in the poetic sense of something that is blown into one by a divine wind. If last night’s concert wasn’t quite divine, it certainly had heavenly moments. And if the second half was any indication, it was a heartening look at a great musical tradition being passed down from one generation to the next.

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