REVIEW: Imani Winds: A Breath Of Fresh Air

Wednesday, 25 October 2017

Reviewed by Isaac Shatford - The Critic

Chamber Music New Zealand’s final concert for 2017 brings a delightfully eccentric programme from a Grammy-nominated ensemble, Imani Winds. Rarely is the Glenroy Auditorium filled with such a rich orchestral sound, nor with such an eclectic array of modern music.

Red Clay and Mississippi Delta, composed by the group’s flautist Valerie Coleman, is a joyous scherzo reminiscent of Coleman’s upbringing in Mississippi. Between finger snaps and charismatic bluesy solos, the vibrant personality of Imani Winds was immediately apparent.

A timeless classic to follow, Rimsky-Korsakov’s vibrant orchestral suite Scheherazade was brought to us just one week ago by the Dunedin Symphony Orchestra. Jonathan Russell’s arrangement for wind quintet is startling in the way it captures the orchestral colours of the original work. Imani embraced the dramatic arc of the first two movements, which made for a engaging recapitulation at the end of the suite. The quasi Allegretto tempo of the third movement was beautifully gauged. Here, Imani struck a fine balance between tenderness and simplicity. This was the only movement, however, where its editorial truncation hindered the overall impact, and the famous love theme was enjoyed all too fleetingly.

Piazzolla's tango Contrabajissimo made for a lively and mysterious end to the first half. The virtuosity of bassoonist Monica Ellis came to the fore, with a hauntingly expressive opening solo.

Snapshots was commissioned especially for Imani’s New Zealand tour, and composed by young Wellingtonian Natalie Hunt. Hunt’s brief depiction of vast African landscapes was highly evocative and atmospheric, and the tasteful use of auxiliary instruments made for a gripping experience.

D’Rivera’s A Farewell Mambo struck a quirky balance between western idiom and latin rhythm. This dance character carried over to Simon Shaheen’s Dance Mediterranea. This manic finale was expertly arranged for the ensemble by horn-player Jeff Scott. As such, each performer had an opportunity to showcase their virtuosity in turn, with wild improvisatory solos.

An assured performance of a marvelous programme, but it was Imani’s passion and personality that made the evening unforgettable.