The orchestra is a remarkable instrument. The sheer beauty of sound can’t compare to any other musical medium. Of the various sections, the woodwinds have a huge range of colours available. No other area of the ensemble can even come close to this range. It sometimes dismays me that woodwind players, and composers take so little advantage of the total possible colours that are there to be used.
Playing levels today are very high. Most professional players can play the notes, be in tune, and play accurate rhythms. Plus, having a beautiful sound and being expressive is essential for any “musical” performance, as well. But many mediocre musicians simply just play their part with little regard for the phrases that others play before and after they play.
I have also heard many technically accomplished players simply play their part and don’t relate their own tone to the other instruments that they are doubling. The term I like to use is “playing inside the sound”. Often, it just doesn’t happen and it can add so much.
A pretty easy combination is bassoon and clarinet, but when these two players actually fall into each other’s sounds it can be magic. The combination can sound like a totally different instrument, what I would call a “Bassinette”.
Flute and clarinet can be a more difficult combination, especially for intonation. If the two players can be totally selfless, and work on an utterly complete blend, the result is more the sum of the parts.
The recordings of the Berlin Philharmonic Quintet are a perfect example of a great “collective” sound. It doesn’t mean that an individual’s sound becomes lost either; it actually helps the solo voices to be heard well. Music is very much about expression, but it is also about color. Use it to your advantage.