”This group is a wind quintet plus piano, whose expert players are committed to exploring connections between music and nature. The unusual grouping of musicians who appeared at Brandywine is founder Sarah Davol (oboe), Kathleen Nester (flute), Mitch Kriegler (clarinet), and R.J. Kelley (French horn), with guest artists Andrea Herr (bassoon) and Allen Farnham (piano).
There’s not much literature for this combination of instruments, so Englewinds commissions new works, adapts others, and writes its own pieces. The ensemble has performed more than 60 world premieres, a noble addition to small-ensemble literature.
It was tantalizing to see a concert packed with 15 mostly unfamiliar works by 14 composers, most living. Englewinds players are seasoned, hardworking, virtuosic New York musicians, and the museum’s second-floor soaring atrium was acoustically well-suited to their instruments.
The concert opened with three contiguous lyrical pieces illustrating daybreak. “Aubade,” a luscious solo written and performed by horn player Kelley, soared in from the wings.
Margaret Lowe’s “Dawn Carol” offered an ethereal fugue for flute, oboe, and clarinet. Davol’s “Cloths of Heaven” added a plaintive drone grounding the winds.
Next, Eric Ewazen’s “The Summit,” a quintet about hiking, opened with jaunty forward motion reminiscent of Romantic-era hunting pieces. Over the foundational rock of the bassoon, the composer has built chords reinforcing the sense of climbing or trudging, and it ends with a triumphant expression of relief at reaching the top.
Composer Edwin Avril (who wrote over a dozen works for Englewinds) died recently, and the group dedicated an engaging performance of his witty “Jersey Devil’s March through the Marshes” to his memory. The program’s first half ended with Farnham’s “Cycles,” featuring the entire group, in his densely textured work replete with jazzy rhythms.
The second half was full of genre works, opening with Davol’s brief, charming oboe solo étude in D minor, “The Bee,” written as a study piece for a student. The ensemble also played young composer Gregg Rossetti’s “Cyclogenesis,” a sound painting of a turbulent windstorm; and Ann Ronell’s “Willow Weep for Me,” straight-on jazz for piano and (yes) French horn.
Flutist Nester gave a stunning solo performance of Elizabeth Brown’s virtuosic “Trillium,” filled with glissandi and techniques incorporating the sounds of breath into its swooping musical lines. For Dawn Avery’s “Tulpe/Turtle”(for oboe, bassoon, rattles, and spoken word in the Lenape language), Davol called up some concert-attending musicians. She divided the audience into two groups, each one led by the surprised rattle-playing musicians in chanting a Lenape word. After a slow start, the performance was surprisingly effective. The eclectic evening also included Farnham playing “The Brooke in Winter,” a lyrically melancholy piano solo by Ann Wyeth McCoy. Inspired by a Wyeth painting, it’s subtitled “In Chadds Ford,” carrying a special resonance and ending plaintively on a single note.
Two movements adapted from Milton Granger’s opera Robin Hood had cinematic and Broadway echoes and the evening ended with Kriegler’s effective arrangement of Edward MacDowell’s classic “To a Wild Rose.” The evening was filled with descriptive pieces and unique musical views.”
—Gail Obenreder, Broadstreet Review (Philadelphia), August 14, 2018