CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Transcription, the art of taking music written for one medium and arranging it for another, was at the heart of a recital by the Imani Winds Saturday night.
The famous African-American woodwind quintet appeared at Christ Church United Methodist for the Charleston Chamber Music Society.
The transcriptions were of Ligeti's Six Bagatelles (1953), composed for piano and set for woodwind quintet by the composer, and Stravinsky's now 100-year-old "Rite of Spring," in a shortened arrangement commissioned by Imani by the American composer Jon Russell.
Ligeti's Bagatelles, with their accented dissonances and mincing half-step harmonies, have a quaint, old-fashioned sound to them so unlike the rhythmic fluidity and nova-like cacophony of the composer's later works.
Imani displayed the motor-rhythmic ostinatos of the first, fourth and last pieces with clarity, and the percolating accompaniment of the third with the type of refined tonal coloring that begged attention away from the melody. The little scraps of melody that emerge only to disappear with little trace were polished and beautifully shaped, especially in the second movement by oboist Toyin Spellman-Diaz and bassoonist Monica Ellis.
The transcription of Stravinsky's "Rite" was deft and Imani played it with virtuosic gusto.
But too much is missing from layers of ostinatos and rich harmonies as well as the huge contrasts of volume and tonal colors from the enormous orchestra of the original.
So one is left to fill in the missing parts in the mind (five instruments don't do well playing seven-note chords). I found that too distracting, but the large audience seemed to enjoy it with the warm ovation it bestowed.
The rest of the program consisted of music Imani had commissioned or created itself.
Jason Moran's four-movement "Cane" showed Imani's knack for drawing lovely, varied tonal colors from their instruments. Jeff Scott's fragmented horn melody in long tones that emerged from a jumble of sounds in the second movement and clarinetist Mariam Adam's sanguine lines over the static harmonies in the third were key moments.
The first three movements were marked by complex textures and fresh, modern melodic and harmonic ideas. The finale was more conventional, even bluesy, but Imani lavished tonal variety upon it.
Hornist Scott's own composition, "Startin' Sumthin'," had pinwheeling lines and a spiky ostinato that drew bassoonist Ellis' instrument into its highest range. Calm in this frenetic activity came at the trio from a lilting solo by oboist Spellman-Diaz.Flutist and composer Valerie Coleman's evocation of gypsy music, "Tzigane," was full of impressive whirls of sound and robust melody. A pair of Klezmer tunes, with clarinetist Adam featured, and an encore of Coleman's quiet "Umoja" closed the concert.