"The Musicians of Bremen," which had its Washington premiere last night at the National Academy of Sciences, may be the woodwind quintet's answer to "Peter and the Wolf." The latest work of Jon Deak, a New York composer who also has been performed here by the 20th Century Consort, compensates in vividness for what it may lack in profundity.
The performers last night were the New York Woodwind Quintet, a virtuoso ensemble of the highest quality that brought to Washington a program well calculated to test and demonstrate its skills.
Two works were transcriptions: Mozart's exquisite Fantasia in F minor, K. 594, originally composed for a sort of music box, and Stravinsky's tersely lyrical and economically inventive Eight Instrumental Miniatures, originally composed as piano exercises.
The most substantial work on the program was undoubtedly the Quintet, Op. 43, of Carl Nielsen -- music superbly attuned to the special qualities of each instrument and to the varied textures they can form in harmony or dialogue. The concluding theme and variations give each player a moment in the spotlight to show what his instrument can do -- challenges superbly met last night. Coordination and phrasing were a shade less precise in the rambunctious "Quintette en forme de Cho ros" of Villa-Lobos.
Deak's is the work likely to be remembered most vividly. The instruments brilliantly imitate the voices and physical actions of the donkey, hound, cat and rooster of the Grimm brothers' tale, producing descriptive grunts, squawks, chirps, squeaks and gargles that students spend years of hard work learning to avoid. The players also recite key parts of the story, solo or in harmony -- a more challenging assignment for wind players than for pianists or cellists. It is wonderfully amusing and leaves one wanting to hear more samples of Deak's wild musical imagination.