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  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


 

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Oboe Classics

The Sheba Sound – Crossing Musical Boundaries – Two oboes, bassoon and harpsichord
CD1 - Kaleidoscope - Rocked Baroque to Folk Music [58:28]
BACH, arr. LANGFORD, Gigue; HEFTI, arr. LANGFORD, The Odd Couple; MÜLLER, Zwei Freunde - Polka de Concert; BULL, arr. LESTER, The King's Hunt; TRADITIONAL ARABIC SONG, arr. LANGFORD, On the Palm Tree; BOYCE, Allegro from Sonata no 10 in E minor; ASHLYN, The Bassoon Song; ANON, arr. LESTER, Can Shee Forgive?; Two BEATLES songs, arr. HYMAS, Here Comes the Sun, Obladi Oblada; PURCELL, arr. DODS, Chaconne & Sinfonie; RUNSWICK, Hawkeye; BYRD, arr. LESTER, The Earl of Salisbury's Pavane; Henry VIII arr. RICHARDSON, Greensleeves; LANGFORD, Folk Song Suite; COUPERIN, arr. LANGFORD, Les Baricades Mistérieuses; LANGFORD, The Carnival of Venice
CD2 - Reflections - Baroque and Contemporary Works [56:47]
Georg Friedrich HANDEL, Arrival of the Queen of Sheba; Giuseppe San MARTINI, Trio Sonata no 5 in G; David MATTHEWS, Toccatas and Pastorals Op 13; François COUPERIN, Suite L'espagnole; Elizabeth MACONCHY, Trittico; Michelangelo JERACE, Sinfonia no 2 in E minor; Jean-Michel DAMASE, Suite pour Quatre
The Sheba Sound: Catherine Smith, Deirdre Lind; Sandra Mackay, Valerie Taylor (oboes); Deirdre Dundas-Grant, Nicholas Hunka, Robin Kennard (bassoon); Harold Lester, Alastair Ross, David Owen Norris, John Alley (harpsichord)
rec. Pye REC 277 LP, All Saints Church, Petersham, 1977; Pye 1981; BBC, 1987; Sheba Sound recording 1980, St James Church Clerkenwell; Live Wigmore Hall, 1984; BBC recording, 1985. ADD
OBOE CLASSICS CC 2014 [58:28 + 56:47]
 


In 1975 freelance oboist Catherine Smith approached the oboist Deirdre Lind and the bassoonist Deirdre Dundas-Grant fellow members of the BBC Concert Orchestra. She proposed a new group comprising two oboes, bassoon and harpsichord to play trio sonatas. After signing up Harold Lester - on the recommendation of oboist Neil Black - The Sheba Sound was born. With occasional changes of personnel it was to remain active for 22 years. As for the name it combined a conformist reference to The Arrival of the Queen of Sheba (tr. 1 on CD2) with Sound a word not comfortably found in the strait-laced classical community. There you have it: conformity and rebellion. These contrasts were reflected in their choice of repertoire.

They decided to concentrate their concerts on unpublished baroque music and Lester did the arranging. To provide a peppery mix they also mixed in jazzy material and for this leaned on the skills of Gordon Langford. This unexpected element was developed with infusions of serious contemporary, rock and jazz.
 
No one had heard of USPs at the time but The Sheba Sound had them: glamorous shot silk dresses, colourful cummerbunds, each work announced by a member of the group, special music stands and platform furniture draped in red velvet.

Appearances on BBC TV and Radios 3 and 4 fuelled their success as did seasons in Germany, Italy and Arabia. Their tours to Italy included singers Margaret Cable (alto) and Christopher Underwood (tenor). After an appearance by Catherine Smith on Radio 4 Woman’s Hour the BBC in 1977 financed the issue of an LP (Pye REC 277) on which Oboe Classics have drawn for this release.
 
CD 1 shows off the lighter side of The Sheba Sound. There we encounter Swingle-style instrumental Bach. The arrangements can be slinky, full of subtle smiles and mildly jazzy. Langford’s pastoral shepherds’ piping is a common ‘signature’. There’s an Arnold-like swoop to some of the writing and even a swoon in the Müller with its Viennese clipped waltz. On the Palm Tree has an Arabian sway and Catherine Smith essays the hand drum. The Boyce is sprightly as ever. Then comes the humorous Stanley Unwin-style bassoon song. Can Shee Forgive takes us into the Middle Ages and reminds us of David Munrow. The Beatles songs are given with a shy smile. The Langford folksong arrangements are cheeky and charming. He does not hold back from pointed caricature either: listen to Viva and all that and to Lost Paraguayos (the double word-play there). On the other hand Langford is straight faced in Bonny at Morn where he makes linkage with the English pastoral school which is so close to his heart. In the Carnival of Venice fun and pastiche are anarchically alive with references to Rimsky and Rossini built in. There’s a rock-jazzy drum and rhythm section in Greensleeves and in the Bach Gigue guitar as well as in Les Baricades Mistérieuses.
 
On CD 2 the Martini is alert and cheery and in the central andante warmly placid à la Pachelbel. It was only a couple of months ago that in Manchester I heard David Matthews major tone poem The Music of Dawn. His catalogue includes a triptych of ambitious and impressive orchestral works in this currently unfashionable genre. The Music of Dawn, richly scored for large orchestra, begins in the pale light of early dawn, and ends in the blaze of noon. The writing there is sumptuous to the point of Bax and Scriabin. I hope that it will be recorded before too long.  The Toccatas and Pastorals was the composer’s earliest commission. His style in the mid-1970s admits a measure of modest dissonance so these pieces are tangy and playful rather than easily ingratiating. And the finale echoes Stravinsky’s Symphonies of Wind Instruments. After the dignified Couperin comes the intriguing Maconchy, again written specifically for Sheba Sound. As the composer said, this is a light-hearted piece with an edge to it. It is in three short movements – the whole lasting just over six minutes. The central Ninna-nanna lullaby placidly breathes its way through 2:26. The gentle lapping motion suggests a Mediterranean scene but there is a central section which suggests the baby awake … and hunting! The Jerace Sinfonia No. 2 brightly recalls the Bach orchestral suites. Finally the Damase which was a commissioned work for which the French Ministry of Culture paid. It is typically accessible yet with plenty of subtle fibre, splendidly chirpy, playful, fun … and sentimental in the Poulenc frame.

Great entertainment. It can be played as a background to a meal or household chores yet with so many assertive blandishments that you will be glad to interrupt and listen or to be happy to listen in breaks in conversation.
 
The single-width set is most thoroughly annotated and there are plenty of evocative photos as well.
 
This revival was a thoughtful and cleverly considered and executed project; typical of all Oboe Classics’ releases. A winner and not just for cross-over children of the seventies and eighties. It’s a natural for Christmas or any other season and a better than pleasant diversion after you have surfeited on Pettersson symphonies, Bax tone poems or Schoenberg quartets.
 
Rob Barnett

 

 



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