Don Gillis’ Sweet Suites for Wind Quintet

Review by: Jed Distler

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Artistic Quality: 9

Sound Quality: 9

If you like classical “pops” composers like Leroy Anderson, Ferde Grofé, Alec Wilder, and of course George Gershwin, you’ll welcome Don Gillis into your life. My colleague David Hurwitz has championed many releases devoted to Gillis’ orchestral works, and the composer’s three suites for wind quintet are skillfully crafted and chock-full of fun, especially in the Madera Wind Quintet’s expertly rehearsed, mostly idiomatic performances.

Suite No. 1 is based on the Tortoise and the Hare fable, and you’ll hear that right away in the bassoon’s loping lines throughout the first movement and in the third movement’s tarantella-like conclusion. The central movement aims to represent the rabbit’s dreams as he’s napping while the tortoise slowly catches up, but honestly, this pleasant, bluesy writing can represent anything.

Suite No. 2 begins with a “Self-Portrait” that might be described as a cross between a prairie ballad and a Mexican serenade; it’s harmonically simple yet texturally luminous. The second-movement “Sermonette” begins like an upbeat spiritual but soon turns dark and introspective. This mood spills over into the third movement’s generally slow and sustained writing.

Suite No. 3 is subtitled “Gone With the Woodwinds”, and its opening movement is a playful boogie-woogie romp. Here I find the Madera Quintet’s approach to the dotted rhythms a wee bit stiff and non-swinging. The same goes for their immaculate execution of the third movement’s jagged unison lines, although the slithery Gershwin-like chordal sequences fresh out of An American in Paris convey plenty of panache and insouciance. On the whole, this enchanting disc ought to drum up interest in Gillis’ suites among woodwind players. And while we’re on the subject, when will Alec Wilder’s wind quintets be rediscovered?



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: None for this collection


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