Herbert Howells’ magnificent Oboe Sonata
is by far the most substantial work here. It was written in 1942 for
Leon Goossens (who else?) who, incidentally, never performed it. This
wonderful work was eventually first performed in 1984 by Sarah Francis
and Peter Dickinson who also recorded it on HYPERION A66206 (re-issued
in 1999 on HELIOS CDH 55008). It is a tightly argued piece that has
nevertheless many beautifully lyrical moments and its present popularity
is quite deserved.
Edmund Rubbra’s Oboe Sonata in C Op.100
(1958), written for Evelyn Rothwell, is also a quite meaty essay full
of this composer’s hallmarks. It is also one in which the basic idea
is thoroughly developed through a series of transformations, as is often
the case in Rubbra’s never indifferent music. However the work is also
imbued with warmly lyrical flights of fancy. It is one of Rubbra’s finest
Richard Rodney Bennett wrote five works based, in one
way or another, on Debussy’s Syrinx. After Syrinx
I for oboe and piano is a typical Bennett piece blending serial
techniques (though he never was a strict serialist) with the tonal implications
of Debussy’s work.
Lennox Berkeley, though no serial composer, based his
Oboe Sonatina Op.61 on a 12-note row worked out in a non-serial
way, so that Berkeley’s imprints are present throughout. As is often
the case in Berkeley’s music, the basic material is developed with economy
so that the music never outstays its welcome.
Gordon Jacob was an all-round craftsman who had a remarkable
flair for wind instruments, and his Seven Bagatelles composed
in 1970 are no exception. These short character pieces are beautifully
written, full of exquisite instrumental touches and not without humour,
as in Limerick.
William McMullen and Catherine Herbener obviously love
these works, and play with assurance and dedication, making the best
out of each of the pieces. Beautiful, natural recording fortunately
free from any extraneous sounds (such as clicks or breathing). I have
no reservation whatsoever in recommending this very fine release.