Alan Rawsthorne

Oboe Quartet (1970)

Francis Routh

Oboe Quartet Op.34 (1977)
Tragic Interludes Op.43 (1983)

Elizabeth Lutyens

Oboe Quartet :
Driving out the Death Op.81(1971)


Robin Canter             oboe
Nicholas Ward           violin
Pauline Lowbury        violin
Edward Vanderspar   viola
Gillian Thoday            cello

Redcliffe Recordings RR006
(rec. 1986,'87,'90)

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notes ©1991,1998: Redcliffe Recordings


Oboe Quartet (1970)
Andante-Allegretto             Poco Lento                           Allegro

Theme and Variations for two violins (1937)
Theme (Allegro)                Capriccietto (Allegro molto)      Siciliano (Allegretto)
  Cancrizzante (Allegro)         Rhapsodia (Adagio)                  Notturno (Lento assai)
Scherzetto (Presto)            Ostinato (Allegro)                 Canone (Allegro)
   Fantasia (Allegro poco maestoso)

These works, which span Rawsthorne's working life, contain the essence of his style. He has been described as "the musicians' composer" because the priorities he set himself were the main concern of the 20th century composers everywhere. His starting point was Bart6k, not Schoenberg, and the hallmarks of his style are rhythmic tautness, and an enlarged conception of tonality. Using traditional material, his music is derived from instrumental rather than vocal sources, and his most characteristic pieces are to be found among his chamber music rather than among the more flamboyant concertos and symphonies. He exploits tonality not so much by the somewhat obvious device of the simultaneous sounding of conflicting keys (or bitonality), as by the suggestion of various tonal centres, and a certain major/minor ambivalence.
The Oboe Quartet is a late work, and a vintage one. It displays the typical Rawsthorne lyricism, which by now is refined. The fire is still there, but it is kept under control. He never lost sight of that lyricism that marked such early works as the fine Viola Sonata (1935); but here there is also to be found a personal, sombre quality. The counterpoint is clean and classical, while the individual harmonic progressions give the music a forward impulse and a power which is denied to music based on static harmonies.
After a short introduction, which sets out the notes B.A.C.H. as the motto of the work, the first movement uses two ideas - one of interlocking and overlapping melodic lines; the other of rhythmically articulated chords for the strings, with or without the oboe descant above them. The second movement uses the motto in a melody of long, augmented note-values in the cello part, treated with a certain amount of rhapsodic freedom, and leading to a moment of bold climax. The third movement recalls the motto, but at a faster speed - indeed the fastest yet. A new repeated-note idea (differing from the first movement in that the notes are of equal length) is used first in the form of repeated chords, lending harmonic support to the oboe, next as an upbeat anacrusis to an expressive melody (p espr.) for the violin, paving the way for a slower section. But the quick tempo is restored, and after a recall of the repeated chord idea, the movement ends abruptly.
Theme and Variations was the first work to earn Rawsthorne a measure of official recognition. It was written for his first wife, the violinist Jessie Hinchliffe especially for her Wigmore Hall recital on 7 January 1938, when the other violinist was Kathleen Washbourne. Many aspects oft he work recall Bart6k: the tonal and rhythmic inventiveness, the nature of the violin writing, the "night music" of the Notturno movement.
The basic material is fast-moving, with a pronounced forward thrust from the first note onwards. The theme is in two contrasted halves, which opens the way to variety in each movement. The two slow central movements (Rhapsodia, Notturno) are the expressive centre of gravity of the work. The use of mutes in the ensuing Scherzetto gives just the right hushed, eerie quality to the evanescent music, and makes the contrast which breaks upon us with the ff of the Ostinato that much more effective The momentum now built up cannot be halted, and carries us right through the Fantasia, even with its brief, episodic references to ideas from previous sections of the work (Siciliano, Rhapsodia, Notturno).

Oboe Quartet Op.34 (1977)
    Introduction, Var.1 (Allegro moderato)                      Var. 2-5 (Vivace)
            Var, 6-8 (Lento)                                               Var. 9-12, Coda (Vivace, piu Lento)
Tragic Interludes for solo oboe Op.43 (1983)
       Warfare (Vivace)                                                          Divine refuge (Scherzando)
     Human suffering (Slow)                                                       Doubt (Moderato)
       Decision (Moderato)                                        Pity and sorrow (Vivace grazioso)

The growth of Routh's idiom was slow and gradual. His output in the 1960s, when he first gained recognition, consisted mainly of songs and keyboard works; notably the Yeats songs A Woman Young and Old (1962). Thereafter he has tended to compose groups of works for particular soloists, and his style has broadened out as it assumes an individuality. The oboe works are an interesting case in point, including as they do the two here presented, as well as a Concerto. The Oboe Quartet marks something of a turning point in Routh's style, with a fresh, assertive element, as well as the first signs of the scale by which he sought to introduce order to his discoveries into new aspects of tonality. It so happens that the first time the scale was used as the sound-source of the material was in Tragic Interludes five years later,
The Oboe Quartet was commissioned by the leading oboist of her generation, Janet Craxton, who first performed it, with her London Oboe Quartet, at the British Council, Cologne on 19 October 1977, at the start of a tour of Germany. Moreover it was the same artist who also commissioned the other Oboe Quartets here performed, as well as works from several other composers. She was a tireless advocate of British music, achieving in the 1960s and 1970s what Leon Goossens did for an earlier generation. She died tragically early in 1981, and this opened the way to younger players; thus Routh's later Tragic Interludes was written for Robin Canter; the principal oboist in the Redcliffe Ensemble. His technical skills are those of a later generation, and Tragic Interludes contains harmonics and multiphonics not used in the earlier work.
In the Oboe Quartet the oboe is always prominent, like a Concerto, The construction of the work is similar to that of the earlier Duo for violin and piano, namely the Introduction (Theme), 12 Variations, and Coda are grouped to form three movements, like a Sonata; and though the music is played without a break, the three sections are quite distinct.

After the Introduction (liberamente) the first section (vivace) speaks directly, with the freedom and apparent randomness exactly notated, The second section (Lento, liberamente) is more inward and contemplative, somewhat impressionistic in colouring with a slower rate of harmonic change, and a cadenza (Var.7). The third section is a developed version of the first, and, to complete the arch-like symmetry, the Coda recalls the Introduction.
Tragic Interludes is a realisation of the rhythmic patterns that make up the first choral ode of Aeschylus's tragedy Agamemnon. The theme of the play is retribution and counter-retribution, and in this opening ode the chorus show their foreboding at the outcome of the grim events that surrounded the Greek expedition to Troy. Under their commander Agamemnon they won a military victory, but at the price of the sacrifice of Agamemnon's daughter Iphigenia.

Warfare: Victory will come to the Greeks, but the price in human life angers the goddess Artemis.
Divine refuge: Men are mortal, sinful; only heaven can save.
Human suffering: Men learn by suffering and choice.
Doubt: Should Agamemnon call off the expedition, and lose military honour? Or should he obey the will of Artemis and murder his own daughter? Either choice would bring great sorrow.
Decision: Military ambition proved stronger than personal love. Agamemnon chose to kill Iphigenia, and lead the army to war.
Pity and sorrow: The pity of Iphigenia the virgin brings guilt to all who saw this event. Sorrow is inevitable, and retribution.

The choral odes of Greek tragedies were performed antiphonally with music, dance, and a blend of poetic recitation and intonation. They were constructed strictly on a rhythmic pattern known as antistrophic. A rhythm (strophe) was introduced, then repeated. A second rhythm was then introduced, and repeated; and soon. Thus the ode fell into a series of recurring rhythms, aa-bb-cc etc., round which the dramatist fitted his verses. Their basis was musical. These Tragic Interludes take the rhythmical patterns of the six strophes and antistrophes that form the first ode. It was from these same verses that Routh took the text of his soprano cantata The Death of Iphigenia (1972).
In these Interludes the pace constantly varies, and the melodic line of the oboe approaches the freedom of speech-rhythm. Indeed the modern oboe is not so very different from the aulos of antiquity - a fact which also underlies the use of the instrument by Lutyens in her classically-derived piece Driving out the Death. As far as the musical material of Routh's piece is concerned, he introduces a seven-note scale, made up of two tetrachords which overlap; the whole-tone scale, with the addition of the perfect fourth. This scale combines the Lydian and Dorian modes. Each Interlude uses the scale starting from a different base-note, and the fourth Interlude uses two versions of it.


Oboe Quartet: Driving out the Death Op.81 (1971)
         Carrying out of Winter                                                  Pantomimos
       Carrying out of Summer                                                               Euché
       Driving out the Death (poco a poco accel. e cresc.)          Dithyrambos (a tempo meno mosso = 120)

Lutyens's adherence to Schoenberg's 12-note technique was dogmatic, and promoted with a missionary fervour from the 1940s onwards. In the 1950s and 1960s the tide of serialism was running at full flood. By the 1970s it was ebbing, and it became possible to see it for what it was, a passing stage in the discovery of a new language; but that is not how it appeared at the time. The serial composer such as Lutyens, who accepted Schoenberg's rules as articles of faith, was faced as a result with formidable problems of balance, texture and structure. These were particularly the case in orchestral and large-scale works; but not so pronounced in smaller pieces, such as chamber music, which use fewer instruments.

Lutyen's style is best suited to small-scale works, An early piece such as the Rimbaud cantata for soprano 0 saisons, 0 Châteaux (1946) has a clarity and a brevity lacking in the densely concentrated orchestral works, and the operas. Moreover writing for voices tends to bring out the true nature of her style. which is slender and lyrical.
The 1970s was a prolific period for her; a late flowering of the lyricism which had been earlier suppressed. The late works, of which this Oboe Quartet is a particularly clear example, become mellower less strident; her harmony is less complex than hitherto, though it is still repetitive and static, not progressive; her melody is less fragmentary, though still angular; her rhythmic patterns are irregular though mainly homophonic, with very little independence of part-writing. Acid chords, tremolando, characterise the score, and the work is governed by a 2-note motif (f sharp-e-f sharp) which the oboe announces at the opening.
The creative impulse of Driving out the Death derives from the Greek legend of the seasons, with its ritualistic dance and mime of Winter and Summer; representing Death and Life. Just prior to this work, in 1969, Lutyens had composed an opera Isis and Osiris, which was also a ritual of the seasons, dealing with death and life.
The six sections are played without a break, and each section is freely built round a little repeated phrase for the oboe, derived from the opening 2-note motif. The central section, Euché ("prayer"), is very quiet and still - "the sculptured prayer of winter" - and the pace is so slow as to be almost stationary, with the rate of harmonic change reduced almost to zero. A gradual quickening in the next section leads to a statement, ff, by the strings in unison, of the opening oboe motif. Thereafter the concluding Dithyrambos, or hymn to Dionysos, reverts to the mood of the first section. Each of the strings leads off in turn, followed by the oboe which briefly recalls the identifying phrases from the earlier sections, before ending the work, as it began, on a sustained f sharp.

GRAMOPHONE Review of this recording November 1992

Since its inception in the early 1970s, the Redcliffe Society, and all its manifestations—concerts, publishing and recordings—has been the promotional arm of the composer, Francis Routh. To be fair, he has not merely pushed his own music but has supported the works of other composers in whom he believes. This record is a typical example: alongside two pieces by Routh himself are two fine ones by Alan Rawsthorne and a most welcome performance of an oboe quartet by the now-neglected Elisabeth Lutyens.

Although highly-regarded in his lifetime, Rawsthorne is now under-performed. Yet there is much to admire in his music. The Oboe Quartet is a late work, composed in 1970, the year before he died. It is lyrical despite its occasionally gritty and athletic counterpoint, and is full of fastidious craftsmanship. That quality is notable in the other piece by Rawsthorne, the Theme and Variations for two violins, composed in 1937. It's an absolute masterpiece in that one is never aware of the limitations imposed by two violins. For an example of the fine writing (matched by equally fine playing), listen to the fifth variation (Notturno) and the muted Scherzetto (Var. No. 6).

Since we are approaching the tenth anniversary of her death it is probably a good time to try to evaluate the output of Elisabeth Lutyens. Her Oboe Quartet, Driving Out the Death is a late work, composed when she had mellowed her rigorous serialism. Its lyricism and textural variety make it an absorbing piece and one that can be heard over and over again.

The two works by Routh that complete the disc are very different. His Oboe Quartet was composed for Janet Craxton, while the Tragic Interludes for solo oboe were composed for Robin Canter and display all the technical skills available to the modern generation of oboists. The disc is also a tribute to the refined playing of Robin Canter and his colleagues in the Redcliffe Ensemble. The recording is first-rate.

Peter Marchbank

GRAMOPHONE reviews are available on-line


The Ensemble derives its name from the Redcliffe Concerts, which were founded in 1964 for the performance of British composers' works. The concerts focussed primarily on the music of iving composers which merited performance; but it soon became clear that, in attempting to meet the needs of British music in this way, which would not otherwise be met, there were other than contemporary composers with a legitimate call on the public attention. There were composers of the recent past, whose music was unjustifiably ignored, such as Frank Bridge, Constant Lambert, Arnold Bax, Charles Orr; and there were composers of an even earlier period, chiefly Samuel Wesley.
For the furtherance of this work a specialist Ensemble, of first class quality, was called for. So the REDCLIFFE ENSEMBLE was formed in the early 1970s. Over the years that followed they built up a formidable reputation, not only for their appearances in Redcliffe Concerts, but for their recordings, tours and broadcasts. Dedicated, professional performances were achieved, which not only introduced numerous British composers and premiere performances, but also balanced these as the need arose with other works of the contemporary European repertoire.
The REDCLIFFE ENSEMBLE is a group of soloists, and their numbers depend on the work being performed. Occasionally they can be augmented up to the size of a Chamber Orchestra. Some of the special landmarks in the repertoire of the REDCLIFFE ENSEMBLE are chamber music by Priaulx Rainier; the Second Piano Concerto, and songs, by Constant Lambert; Carmina Vernalia by Robert Sherlaw Johnson; Concerto for Ensemble I-III by Francis Routh.
The REDCLIFFE ENSEMBLE record exclusively for Redcliffe Recordings.
©1991,1998: Redcliffe Recordings

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