English Oboe Concertos
Michael HURD (b. 1928)
Concerto da Camera
Kenneth LEIGHTON (1929-88) Oboe
William BLEZARD (b.1921) Two Celtic
John GARDNER (b.1917) Oboe Concerto
Philip LANE (b. 1950) Three Spanish
Jill Crowther (oboe)
English Northern Philharmonia/Alan Cuckston
ASV WHITELINE CD WHL
ASV have become practised hands at anthologising. Their three volumes of
British Light Music have been the ideal complement to the three Hyperions
conducted by Ronald Corp especially where Hyperion tend to concentrate on
the more famous pieces. The ASV series also complements the ambitious Marco
Arguments about categorising music into light and not so light
are not necessarily that productive. However, while some works here
delightfully answer to that call, others are just as clearly on the other
side of that hazy 'fence'.
Michael Hurd's concerto is just about in the light category.
Light in the sense that that word appears in the word 'delight'. This
is highly romantic and in it the oboe becomes the delectable singer of nasally
trilling eloquence. The work is a cousin to the Malcolm Arnold concerto (surely
the princess among Arnold's mass of concise concertos). It trumps the Arnold
in its plenitude of grace - a quality it draws down from the Finzi Interlude.
The rocking middle movement has the gentle touch of Fauré's Pavane.
The pert finale rounds off a gorgeous work which sets a challenge not
completely met by the other works on this disc. The whole thing is over in
12 concise and gorgeous minutes.
Leighton's is a more harmonically spiced concerto. It was not heard
during the composer's lifetime. While the ears may be gently challenged he
does not dishonour the oboe's singer soul. Strange how the sultry string
lines suggest Bax. This is a 20 minute concerto comparable frequently with
the bleaker parts of the Finzi Cello Concerto (to be given at the 2001 Henry
Wood BBC Proms). This music might even have influenced Thomas Wilson's
music for the BBCTV adaptation of Lewis Grassic Gibbon's Cloud Howe
and more plausibly the Finzi Clarinet Concerto in the harmonic 'crunch' of
its opening string broadside. Arnold is hinted at in finale and there is
more than a touch of the darting and cross-cutting Tippett as well as Vaughan
Williams from the Partita.
The Gardner manages to conjure
up a classical Beethovenian feeling with a hint of Tippett along the way.
It is hesitant like Geoffrey Burgon's nostalgic music for Brideshead
Revisited. The finale is all vernal rush and flood.
Blezard was another of those British composers whose music was an
occasional fixture at Matinée Musicale. The Highland Lament sings
wistfully almost a-buzz with Delian fireflies. This is an utterly delightful
work rather like the Arnold Scottish Dances. The accompanying Irish
whirligig is out of the same box. I am sure that Philip Lane who has done
so much to drive the renaissance of British light music and film music, would
have been a regular on Matinee Musicale had that programme still been
running on BBC Radio 3. Lane contributes Three Spanish Dances: light
as feather-down and spicy as tapas. The Malaguena is the prize of
Jill Crowther is principal cor anglais with the Royal Ballet Sinfonia and
is also a member of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra.
This is an award-winning collection made irresistible by the Michael Hurd
concerto. The only small cloud is the lightly audible click of the levers.
David Wright has also listened to this disk
This is a very important disc and the sound and performances are extremely
good. The soloist has a super tone and an engaging style, accuracy, poise
and, a rare commodity ... presence. It is one of those things hard to explain
but when you have been a musician as long as I have you know it when it is
Alan Cuckston, our most distinguished harpsichordist, and distinguished in
many other things as well, conducts with a quiet confidence, no excesses
or idiosyncrasies but is simply unobtrusive yet effective. He clearly understands
both roles of support and accompaniment.
Not all this music thrills me. Nor will it you, although the disc contains
no inaccessible music. It is curious that the oboe, particularly, demands
a music which suits it and has to fit it like a glove.
Michael Hurd once told me that he was not treated as a serious composer
because he had written two 'pop' cantatas. That is a sad prejudice. His
Concerto da Camera of 1969 is a very attractive work with a mellow,
often glowing string accompaniment particularly in the central moderato
movement. It has a pastoral anachronistic feel about it and is, to my
ears, unashamedly English, recalling England in its days of greatness and
enviable moral and social manners. The music is not pompously decadent or
Edwardian ... and we should all rejoice in that ... it has a charm that is
not sentimental and a grace that reminds me of Mendelssohn whom Hurd has
written about. His love for Mendelssohn is admirable for I too share a very
deep respect for that composer. The finale is light-hearted and many remind
some of Alan Rawsthorne's happier style as in his Piano Concerto no. 1, for
the slow movement of which Rawsthorne was indebted to another British composer.
Leighton's Concerto is more substantial. It dates from 1953 but was not performed
in his lifetime. Leighton had the good fortune to study with Petrassi but
all his life he was beset with self-doubts and was always emulating the styles
of others. This concerto has strong European influence and the great Bartók
is not far away. In passages which are warm, the Mediterranean is nearby.
It is a pity that he never found an original voice.
This concerto is in three movements and the first two are really slow movements
lasting a total of 15 minutes whereas the quick finale lasts 5 minutes.
The concerto is therefore heavily over-weighted. It is like the Violin Concerto
of Samuel Barber which, while it contains some beautiful music, is over-weighted
as well. It is hard to maintain committed interest in Leighton's concerto
because of the lack of tempi or rather the lack of tempi with real contrast.
There are some very effective passages en route but I am left with the notion
that this is note-spinning and filling out time. I fear that I am old-fashioned
and expect a real contrast between movements. Here I was disappointed.
In my view Leighton excels at chamber music. His two string quartets are
very fine. The Oboe Concerto meanders and loses its way having no real sense
of direction. It seems to want to explore emotions and the music is so intense
that I was felt I was being examined on my own psychiatrist's couch. European
influences give way to something mildly English in the finale. I find the
concerto too intense. Others may find it profound.
William Blezard is known for his accompaniment skills with such people
as Joyce Grenfell and Marlene Dietrich. His Two Celtic Pieces are
beautifully written and played and he has brilliantly avoided caricature
as does Philip Lane in his Three Spanish Dances. Mr Lane is to be
commended for his restoring of film music. His dances are not over-ripe and,
thankfully, there are no stomping feet or infuriating castanets.
The Concerto for oboe and strings of John Gardner is, without doubt,
the best piece on this welcome disc. It is a successful three movement work,
well-crafted and expertly designed. You can see and hear where the music
is going. It is logical and a contrast to the Leighton. The simplicity of
Gardner's utterance does not make the music banal but endearing. While not
everyone may share my view this is a good, very good in fact, old-fashioned,
concerto. The opening movement is balanced with expert contrasts and while
the music is not psychologically oppressive, as perhaps the Leighton is,
it is serious. That comes from the natural evolution of the music. It has
form, shape and comeliness. It is memorable. Not all music is. The slow movement
is a gem. From the opening string introduction you are immediately aware
that you are in for something special and you are not disappointed. Here
is a movement of real class. And what a tune! The 'anguish' of the oboe in
a very telling melody is nothing short of superb. Simply exquisite! Its
sensitivity could not be better judged. This is not treacle music ... thick,
sticky and very sweet - nor is there the ghastly nostalgia of constant
repetition. Perhaps the strings could have been slightly more persuasive
but that is a minor quibble. The finale begins in a sort of clever disguise
but blossoms when the mists have rolled away. I adored the glorious woody
viola tone, so seductive and sensual. Oh there is so much to admire here.
The movement may not the most successful movement but it does not deter from
a lovely concerto.
The string playing is remarkably good. Mr Cuckston does not emulate Edwardian
pompous majesty but maintains a clarity of texture which makes the music
breathe and therefore live!