Of all the tools in the arsenal that the Imani Winds quintet wields so skillfully, perhaps the two most powerful are its ability to get into the heart of each piece’s cultural core and to communicate the joy of making music together. Nothing brought this home more clearly than the rollicking finale of the ensemble’s concert Friday at the Atlas Performing Arts Center on H Street NE.
Having recently absorbed klezmer into its multicultural repertoire, the group blew the place apart with a pair of klezmer dances, which were milked for every bit of drama. They were led by clarinetist Mariam Adam, who evoked enough human-sounding wailing, achingly cool slow-dance rhythms and uninhibited emoting to delight even the most rabid klezmer fans.
Coming off a week of performing at Strathmore and offering workshops to children there, the woodwind quintet took its trademark inventiveness to the Atlas. It’s a sure bet that most of this music was new to many in the audience. There were pieces by Eugene Bozza, Brian DuFord, Pavel Haas and John Harbison, and Villa-Lobos’s “Bachianas Brasileiras No. 6” (instead of the more famous No. 5). The five had the audience anticipating the jokes in the music, nodding as textural tangles unraveled and following, like fans at a tennis match, themes as they bounced from one instrument to another.
After twittering their way through the wind-sprint-like warm-up of Bozza’s “Scherzo,” the quintet settled into “Variations on an Afro-Cuban Lullaby.” Written for Imani Winds by DuFord, its languid melody wanders through the personas of a hoedown and the dry ironies of a 1920s music-hall piece, then settles in the loosely groomed rhythmic clapping and rattle-shaking of an African dance.
Flutist Valerie Coleman and bassoonist Monica Ellis partnered on a happily coherent reading of Villa-Lobos’s 20th-century evocation of baroque structure, weaving the exuberant colors of Brazilian energy around the more predictable foundation of 18th-century harmony with gratifying transparency and balance. Haas’s four-movement quintet, with its heavy-handed third-movement “Ballet” (the dancers get tired and droop at the end), and Harbison’s quintet, a repertoire standard, got the treatment accorded old friends: a pleased welcome and a comfortably intimate collaboration.
Reinthaler is a freelance writer.