Atea Quintet

Concert date: 15 March 2024
Reviewed by: JRC

The Atea Quintet after their performance for NADSA Concerts with Susan Avis of

sponsors Buyrite Tyres

It’s more than 12 years since a wind quintet performed for NADSA concerts, if ever. So Friday’s concert was innovative, and their programme, before they had even played a note, looked diverse and interesting. The composers ranged from the 18th century to the extant, so something for everybody. What quickly knitted it all together was the exuberance and vitality of this young group in performance.

The horn’s entry for Gershwin’s Summertime just exuded sultry warmth, and as other instruments joined with their different timbre’s, I found myself, surprisingly, not missing the human voice. And just as I was wallowing in southern ease, I was struck with ‘It Ain’t Necessarily So’. Yes of course, we were hearing an arrangement by Hashimoto: that brought me back to reality, and kept me on my toes for the rest of the evening.

The next two composers on our programme were unfamiliar to me. Probably not surprisingly so since the Atea told us that both composers are perhaps best know as 18th /19th century pioneers of writing for the wind quintet. We heard Danzi’s Quintet in G minor Op 56 No 2. Its movements took us from the light touches of a babbling stream, to a smooth paced lilting walk, then a lively dance and finally the horn and bassoon featured in the action to a spirited conclusion. Reicha’s Andante arioso & Adagio with cor anglais gave us a chance to appreciate the warmer smoother texture of the cor anglais as opposed to the oboe, which is the more usual constituent of a wind quintet. Melodious and featuring all five instruments, this was a delight. Certainly the Atea brought this music to life, and I am not alone in thinking that we should hear more of both Danzi and Reicha, both accessible and not, dare one say, as cliched as Mozart.

The Atea introduced the next item as being something completely different. Malcolm Arnold’s Three Sea Shanties Op 4 certainly were. For me, fun to listen to, not least because I find I am waiting for Bitez’s Habanera to emerge from ‘...the Drunken Sailor’. But for the performers it was a display of virtuosic skills and timing co-ordination.

Different again was Poulenc’s Novelette No1 in C major arranged by Emerson. Here the emphasis was on sound colour blending, and Atea’s result was a treat.




After the relatively easy listening of the first half, the audience was plunged into the much more complex world of Frank Bridge’s Divertimenti for wind quartet. The opening fanfare promised a fun piece as the title suggests, but we had been warned by the players that the music is basically angular and angry. I had never been able to appreciate this music as much I did tonight. Being able to see the Atea responding to each other musically and physically was a delight. This is especially apparent in the middle movements. The first (Nocturne) seems to be a sad conversation between flute and oboe with occasional frenzied outbreaks, whilst the second (Scherzetto) involves the bassoon and clarinet in a much more upbeat banter. The final Bagatelle brought all four back together in a movement full of rhythm and dark humour. The Atea certainly won me over regarding this piece which I had never previously been able to come to terms with.

Over fifty years ago as a young teenager, I had a voracious appetite for listening to music, and I would search out, mostly on the radio, everything from Hildegard of Bingen to Stockhausen. My discovery of Nielsen’s compositions totally blew me away. On a much higher level, the symphonist Robert Simpson said he was unable to compose for months after he first heard Nielsen: such was the impact of the music.

When I discovered the Atea were bringing Nielsen’s wind quintet to Newton Abbot, my adrenalin began to flow. I was not to be disappointed. Nielsen had overheard the Copenhagen Wind Quintet playing some Mozart and he was inspired to write his own Quintet in which he reflects the characters of the Copenhagen players through the instruments. In keeping with its Mozartian inspiration, the first movement is in pure sonata form although, unfortunately, tonight the repeats were omitted.

The bassoon starts the work with a pure descending major triad reflecting the Copenhagen bassoonist, a most unruffled and serene individual. Obviously at home in this music, the Atea played in the simple, refined way that both Mozart and Nielsen would have loved.

The following minuet was similarly played with simple refinement. The only slight imperfection for me was the main tune’s return in the clarinet: the wonderful horn pedal note wasn’t quite pure, but it is marked pp, and it’s live music!

The last movement saw the oboist swap to a cor anglais for the dark prelude, inspired by Nielsen hearing the sinister use of the instrument by Belioz in his Symphonie fantastique.

We were then treated to a simple chorale followed by effortless virtuosity in the eleven variations based on its theme. The Copenhagen clarinettist had a fiery temper, and in the variation for bassoon and clarinet, Nielsen asks them to argue like a man and wife. The bassoon (husband) becomes quiet at the end: probably wisely!

The return of the chorale demanded the poor bassoonist insert a tube into his instrument to achieve Nielsen’s final bottom A. The player made it just in time for the quintet’s last chord!

In the last year of his life, Nielsen said to his daughter “I know I’ve done it as well as I could, but I wonder if it’s all any use?” Listening to them play his wind quintet tonight, the answer is definitely yes.

The concert ended with a piece called Umoja by Valerie Coleman. Umoja means unity in Swahili and, as the programme says, it was a really attractive and joyously played miniature with which to end tonight’s concert.

To hear world class musicians in Newton Abbot is a privilege, and we are grateful for the sponsors and members of Nadsa for making this possible.



This was a concert arranged at short notice, Atea stepping in for another quintet. Even though they had two substitutions in their line up, their performance was sparkling. They had to make a quick exit after the concert to make their ways to Birmingham, London and Cambridge. Having now sampled a string quintet live, I, like many of the audience, am looking forward to renewing the experience.

This concert was sponsored by Buyrite Tyres.

NADSA Concert, Friday 15th March 7.30pm at The Courtenay Centre, Newton Abbot.

JRC and RP