It was a wet and gusty evening, but inside the Library of Congress there were more pleasant winds blowing. The Emmanuel Wind Quintet was in top form at the Coolidge Auditorium, playing one new and one recent Naumburg Foundation commissions, as well as works by Webern and Ravel. All received impeccable readings, carefully profiled and lovingly phrased by Christopher Krueger, flute; Bruce Creditor, clarinet; Peggy Peasron, oboe; David Hoose, horn, and Philip Long, bassoon.
Fred Lerdahl's 1982 brief "Episodes and Refrains" was an arresting, enigmatic piece. Its clear textures and logical structures made it eminently accessible, yet there were hints of hidden pleasures of the kind offered only through long acquaintance. In any case, Lerdahl succeeded in perhaps the hardest task of new music: giving a good first impression.
Preceding the "Episodes" was John Harbison's Wind Quintet, a 1978 Naumburg commission. It is a sprawling score, seldom imposing in any of its five disparate sections. The opening images are of the sunny side of clouds, high above the winds, but a nervous oboe melody glides back to earth over a trembling clarinet line, and much of the rest is pretty but not very interesting. The fabric is there, and it was rich in the Emmanuel's hands; but it was cut into awkward patterns and held together loosely. Still, the central movement recalled Harbison's memorable vocal works. And the finale, with its thankless clarinet part, built up a thrilling momentum.
The evening opened and closed with transcriptions. Gunther Schuller's adaptation for winds of Maurice Ravel's "Le Tombeau de Couperin" was a charming curiosity, gaining in mystery what was lost in tonal ingenuity. A transcription of "Langsamer Satz" from Anton von Webern was a gentle, touching tribute to that composer by the Emmanuel's own David Hoose. The score's Brahmsian shadows were darker, the long cantabile line was at least as seamless as in the original string quartet. And there was a melodic serenity in the opaque textures of the winds that made it more than another transcription, an original and cherishable score in its own right.