The Borealis Wind Quintet is a relative rarity in that it is a touring wind chamber group that mainly plays concerts, is not based out of a university, and conducts only short-term residencies. The group's schedule is generally booked months in advance, it plays everything from music festivals attended by thousands down to lowly church basements, and it is in demand all over the United States. Nevertheless, the major labels aren't out there looking for the best wind groups to record, no matter how good or popular they might be. Thankfully, for those of us who want to experience BWQ outside of the live context, MSR Classics has stepped into the breach to capture the group on an excellent disc entitled A La Carte: Short Works for Winds.
For those of us who come to the table with some knowledge of wind music, the Milhaud and Persichetti pieces are known quantities. Not so the others, which range from a brand-spanking-new (at the time of release) work by Joseph Turrin, Summer Dances through nineteenth century arch-flautist Giulio Briccialdi to a never heard Pastorale for winds composed by Amy Beach. What all of these short works have in common is employment of "open" sonorities that sound particularly good scored for wind groups. Much of the music on A La Carte: Short Works for Winds is bright, cheerful, and yet emotionally moving owing to the BWQ's expert grasp of ensemble color. While a good deal of the program has a neo-Classical feeling, some it is more Romantic in tone, and none of it would qualify as avant-garde.
For those who love wind chamber ensembles, the Borealis Wind Quintet will be a real find. It blends with a crispness and cohesion that hasn't been heard since the days of the New York Woodwind Ensemble, or what the Netherlands Wind Ensemble sounded like when Edo de Waart was still the leader. The whole disc is excellent, with outstanding quality of sound; the performance of the most familiar work, Milhaud's Le Cheminée du Roi René, alone will make you a believer.