It seems strange that the woodwind quintet -- nowadays a vital part of this city's concert life -- had to wait so long for music of its own. Originating as a background band, the quintet thrived for more than a century on arrangements of opera, dance music and tunes that people whistled in the street. Thus Villa-Lobos's transcendentally difficult "Quintette en Forme de Choro" stands out as a momentous event for the wind quintet -- and for audiences that heard the Capitol Woodwind Quintet tackle it Sunday at Temple Micah/St. Augustine's Church.
Committed both to his native folk idioms and to the struggles of European modernism, Villa-Lobos wrote in a style of his own invention. The quintet, managing to find a path through the piece's curious eclecticism, sometimes reached for conventional ways of turning a phrase. But the piece's form, a rhythmically incisive Brazilian dance, was boldly outlined.
Similarly, an advanced harmonic plan follows the inspiration of a folk melody in the Sonata movement of Ginastera's Duo for Flute and Oboe. In the second movement, flutist Alice Kogan Weinreb and oboist Kathleen Golding let the Pastorale unfold with the deliberate austerity of medieval organum, taking delight in its archaic aspects.
Referring back to the woodwind quintet's function as outdoor entertainment was Mario Kuri-Aldana's "Rondo Provinciano," a piece of fluff that chronicles, appropriately enough, a seaside vacation. More substantial fare was the quintet's lucid reading of Poulenc's Novelette in C, a successful revival of a 19th-century character piece wrought from melodically unrelated themes.
But the quintet's metier is music that its audience knows and loves. Bassoonist Truman Harris's witty and inventive transcriptions of the "Barber of Seville" overture and the "Carmen" Suite No. 1 let each instrument shine as a convincing musical personality -- making it possible to hear these old standards with fresh ears.