Due to Sunday's unseasonably warm weather, the Phillips Collection's music room was like a winter coat in June. The thick, stifling air might have created an ideal setting for dozing off, had it not been for the Lieurance Woodwind Quintet's vibrant performance.
The quintet, all faculty artists at Wichita State University, kept the audience alert with an unconventional and varied program. Anton Reicha's Quintet in D, Op. 99, is a neglected gem of the repertoire. Reicha, a Beethoven contemporary, writes in a somewhat refined late-classical style that treats the five players to gracefully arched tunes and tune fragments bandied about in witty dialogue. Since Reicha's instrument was the flute, most of these thematic niceties were entrusted to flutist Frances Shelly, who performed them with flair and polish.
Ligeti's Six Bagatelles for Wind Quintet is a kind of musical caricature. Its ideas run together at a fast clip, and the Allegro con Spirito is the stuff of which cartoon soundtracks are made. The ensemble as a whole played with sharpness and focus throughout, electrifying the room with the music's inner edginess and bite.
Things nearly screeched to a halt with Theodore Blumer's Serenade and Theme With Variations, Op. 34, a rather long-winded bit of reheated romanticism. Happily, though, the Hindemith "Kleine Kammermusik," Op. 24, brought the quintet back to material similar to that of the Ligeti. Though Hindemith's reworkings of classical idioms can be heavy-handed, the Lieurance musicians always sustained depth and sensitivity in their playing.