MUSIC REVIEW : Berlin Wind Quintet Plays It Too Safe in Irvine : Performance comes over as bland, a reflection more of what was played than how.

SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

The impression left by the Berlin Philharmonic Wind Quintet in Monday's program at the Irvine Barclay Theatre was one of blandness, a reflection more of what was played than how it was played.

Making their North American debut under the combined auspices of the Laguna Beach Chamber Music Society and Orange County Philharmonic Society, the Berliners exhibited the requisite skills for an easygoing Quintet in D by the rarely encountered Bohemian composer Josef Bohuslav Foerster, whose long life spanned major portions of the careers of Wagner, Brahms, Mahler, Janacek, Stravinsky and the Second Viennese School.

But by the sound of this circa-1920 work, the revolutions might never have taken place.

Foerster remained in the Brahms camp, with infusions of Dvorak's woodsiness and taste for rapidly shifting tempo and meter, particularly in the clarinet-dominated scherzo movement.

Otherwise, these members of the Berlin Philharmonic--flutist Michael Hasel, oboist Andreas Wittmann, clarinetist Walter Seyfarth, bassoonist Henning Trog, hornist Fergus McWilliam--stuck to the safe and rather sorry repertory for their combination of instruments, beginning with the obligatory bit of five-part noodling by Anton Reicha and concluding with an overdose of 20th-Century French froth: Darius Milhaud's uncharacteristically well-behaved "Cheminee du Roi Rene," the tired jokes of Jean Francaix's 1951 Quintet, and an Ibert miniature.

Except in the roughly handled opening Reicha, the ensemble proved reasonably polished and energetically engaged in its task without exhibiting the final degree of finesse the French music requires to make its slender points.

One, however, had to admire the evening-long control of his instrument by hornist McWilliam and, except when Francaix's wind-breaking allusions demanded quite the opposite, the powerful purity of his tone.

A different program was scheduled for Tuesday in Pasadena.

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