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Quinteto Latino sets some historical context

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Quinteto Latino is a wind quintet founded and directed by its French hornist, Armando Castellano. Their mission is the interpretation of Latin American classical and contemporary music. However, it is clear from the rest of the members of the ensemble, oboist Kyle Bruckmann, flutist Diane Grubbe, bassoonist Shawn Jones, and clarinetist Leslie Tagorda, that Castellano did not restrict himself to recruiting performers of Latin American descent. The focus is entirely on repertoire.

Thus, Castellano introduced last night’s performance in the Old First Concerts series at Old First Church by stating that, for the first time, he had prepared a program that would establish some historical context for his usual repertoire. Most important was the inclusion of a wind quintet by Paul Taffanel. Not only was the composer French; but also the quintet was composed in 1876, hardly music that could be called contemporary! The same could be said for the opening work, Percy Grainger’s 1904 “Walking Tune,” which the composer described as being “for wind five-some.” This prepared the way for the second half of the evening, in which the quintet turned to the usual repertoire.

This was a noble experiment in programming, but I am not sure it made much of a case. One could appreciate the significance of the Grainger. The context may have been English folk music, but his mastery of eccentric syncopation and the sinuous chromatics of his accompanying lines clearly went far beyond the usual folk conventions. Both of these rhetorical devices figure significantly among many Latin American composers. The Taffanel quintet, on the other hand, came across as a tradition that could not be departed from fast enough.

On the other hand one it was clear that the duo for flute and oboe by Alberto Ginastera, his Opus 13, drew upon influences outside his native Argentina. The work was composed in 1945, which means he probably wrote it around the time he was beginning his studies with Aaron Copland at Tanglewood. However, there are also signs of the influence of an earlier Tanglewood teacher, Paul Hindemith. (This may just be a consequence of my having heard Hindemith’s music performed by the San Francisco Symphony this week.) Listening to Ginastera’s duo left me wondering whether Hindemith’s Opus 24, Number 2 wind quintet (“Kleine Kammermusik”) would have set a better context than Taffanel’s quintet.

The most recent work on the program was the two-movement “Tenue” by the Mexican composer José-Luis Hurtado, currently in the Department of Music at the University of New Mexico. When the performance was introduced from the stage, it was observed that the title is not easily translated into English; but it seemed to bear at least a family resemblance to “tentative.” It is a decidedly contemporary work exploring an aesthetic based on changing sonorities, rather than the conventions of harmonic progressions. More traditional forms were pursued through William Scribner’s arrangement of “Milonga Sin Palabras” by Ástor Piazzolla and Heitor Villa-Lobos’ “Quintette en forme de Chorus.” An even more traditional style was evoked in the encore selection of Manuel Ponce’s “Estrellita.”

As performers, the members of Quinteto Latino have a solid and confident sound. They were as comfortable with Hurtado’s ambitious ventures into new sonorities as they were with their nostalgic Ponce encore. Furthermore, Castellano’s idea of planning a program with context-setting in mind is a good one; and it will be interesting to see if he applies it to future program offerings.

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