January 23, 2011 “Ensemble Pacifica” (Review)

“Ensemble Pacifica Captures Audience”

On Sunday afternoon, January 23rd, 2011, the Victoria wind octet “Ensemble Pacifica” played to a full house at St. Michael’s church in Chemainus.  The ensemble consists of professional and amateur musicians, playing two horns, two clarinets, two oboes, and two bassoons.  It is conducted by George Corwin, former conductor of the University of Victoria Symphony and the UVic Wind Ensemble.  The program consisted of works from the late 18th to the 20th centuries, music by Beethoven, Hummel, Gordon Jacob, and Alfred Uhl.  The great thing about chamber music is that, unlike a huge symphony concert, every instrument can be clearly heard, an effect that was intensified when the conductor introduced each instrument separately and had the players play a few bars on each.

The Beethoven “Rondino” is an early work, dating from 1792, when the composer was only 22, and is a charming though rather slight piece.  The “Octet-Partita” by J.N. Hummel (1778-1837) showcases the talent of a contemporary of Beethoven whose works ought to be played much more often.  Gordon Jacob’s (1895-1984) “Three Elizabethan Fancies” is an arrangement for winds of works from The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book, originally for harpsichord.

Although all the works were welcomed by the audience, probably the best received was the “Joyous Music” by the Austrian composer Alfred Uhl, (1909-92), whom few if any in the audience had previously heard of.  Even the conductor had only recently become familiar with his work.  The piece, in five movements, was in turns cheerful, happy, funny, and at all times intensely musical, as well as posing a good many technical challenges to the ensemble.

–Bill Morrison