The appeal of the woodwind quintet--flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn -- is its sound, at once both rich and crystalline.
The problem of the woodwind quintet, however, is that not all that much music has been written for it. Sure, there is all that fabulous Mozart writing, but much of it is in the context of operas and piano concertos.
The appeals and the problems were abundantly clear in the Dorian Wind Quintet's concert last night at the Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater.
The five players were almost consistently superb, with glowing timbres and virtuoso articulation, especially in one of the hardest parts -- the cascading final movement of Beethoven's E-flat Quintet, Op. 4.
The program's four works illustrated, though, the thinness of the wind quintet repertory. Beethoven's quintet was ingratiating, but little more than that. The young composer was following Mozart's formulas without matching his eloquence. The greatness that was to come was not yet to be heard.
The finest music on last night's program was by living composers -- Elliott Carter's Woodwind Quintet (1948) and the Concerto for Wind Quintet (1983) of Richard Rodney Bennett, who was present for his work's Washington premiere.
Both works were cut from similar sonic cloths. Modern-day dissonances take on a mellow cast from winds that is impossible with more percussive instruments. Abrasive harmonies don't sound so abrasive, and their potential for wit and charm is considerable. A clarinet can be waxing lyrical one moment and squealing away the next and it doesn't sound incongruous.
The works also were full of tricky rhythms, full of surprises and fun. The antic rhythmic games of the Carter piece's last movement were particularly captivating.