It’s inevitable that, after 18 years, the spiky edges of the exuberance and artistic risk-taking that have characterized Imani Winds’ performances are being smoothed into a cool professional veneer. A quintet of skilled and spirited musicians, they were at the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center on Thursday, playing expertly but more carefully than in the past.
The big piece on the program was an arrangement by Jonathan Russell of Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade.” Premiered in January, it’s mostly notable for the skill of the arranger. The original is opulently orchestrated, and Russell has managed to capture an astonishing palette of Rimsky-Korsakov’s colors that the quintet, with exceptional attention to balance, re-created beautifully. The four-movement piece is an easy-listening crowd-pleaser, but one movement would have been enough and might have left time in the program, maybe, for one or more of the newer pieces they have commissioned.
The opening, “Red Clay and Mississippi Delta,” by the group’s flutist, Valerie Coleman, was terrific. A family portrait in sound, all the warts and quirks of querulous aunts, sleepy, slow-walking uncles and playful kids were vivid in this short stunner, and the performance captured the essence of each character. In the two klezmer dances, the clarinet wailed as though the sound were being extruded from some rusty pipe and then took off in cantillation-like spirals of ecstasy.
There was the sultry sophistication of Paquito D’Rivera’s “A Farewell to Mambo,” an episodic quintet by Heitor Villa-Lobos and, to end the concert, an arrangement of Astor Piazzolla’s “Libertango” that gave solo opportunities to each member of the Imani Winds and the quintet of U-Md. wind players who joined them.
Reinthaler is a freelance writer.