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Alessandro MARCELLO (1684-1750) Concerto in D minor for oboe, strings and continuo
Domenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757)/Gordon BRYAN Concerto No. 1 in G major
Tomaso ALBINONI (1684-1750) Concerto in B flat major Op. 7 No. 3; Concerto in D minor; Concerto in D major Op.7 No. 6; Concerto in C major Op. 7 No. 12
Arcangelo CORELLI (1653-1713)/John BARBIROLLI Concerto for Oboe and Strings
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750) Sinfonia from Church Cantata BWV 156; Adagio in B minor from Easter Oratorio BWV 249
Domenico CIMAROSA (1749-1801)/Arthur BENJAMIN Concerto No. 1 in G major
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1739) Concerto No. 3 in G minor; Concerto No. 1 in B flat major
Giovanni Battista PERGOLESI (1710-1736)/John BARBIROLLI Concerto No. 1 in G major
Brynjar Hoff (oboe)
English Chamber Orchestra/Ian Watson
Recorded January 1989, Rosslyn Hill Chapel, London (disc 1)/ May 1993, All Saints Church, East Finchley, London (disc 2)
SIMAX CLASSICS PSC 1254 [59.34 + 50.27]
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These discs were originally recorded in 1989 and 1993 and issued separately. The first disc was given a cautious welcome by John Duarte in the Gramophone in 1990. Simax have now issued them together and they form a fine tribute to the art of veteran Norwegian oboist Brynjar Hoff. Hoff celebrated his 40th anniversary as a professional in 1995.

Hoff has a gorgeous, rich tone and is able so spin a wonderfully supple line, apparently endlessly. His oboe playing is always a pleasure to listen to. The problem players like Hoff have is that there is a large hole in the oboe repertoire, so that though Hoff’s fine technique is essentially romantic, he must concentrate his solo playing on baroque and contemporary items.

There is a charming whiff of yesteryear about this recording. The selection of baroque concertos includes the classic oboe concerto by Alessandro Marcello, four concertos by Albinoni and two concertos attributed to Handel. These latter two are interesting as the scores have rather dubious pedigrees and so the concertos are not so often played; strictly these Handel items are not concertos at all but concerti grossi which happen to have a singularly prominent oboe part.

Speeds are usually quite steady, even in the faster movements, and Hoff never really gives us any virtuoso display. His concern seems to be with beauty of line and continuity of tone. He has an old-fashioned virtuoso’s concern to use the music to display his own talent just as much as using his talent in the service of the music.

In addition to these genuine baroque items Hoff plays Sir John Barbirolli’s concerto based on his orchestrations of Corelli violin sonatas (created for Evelyn Rothwell, Lady Barbirolli) as well as Barbirolli’s concerto based on themes of Pergolesi. These concertos work very well as solo display items but Barbirolli’s orchestration, tactful though it is, is very much of its era and is hardly baroque.

The same can be said for Gordon Bryan’s Concerto based on Scarlatti harpsichord movements; the work seems to say much more about Bryan than it does about Scarlatti. Perhaps the best of these old/new concertos is Arthur Benjamin’s concerto on themes of Cimarosa. This wears its baroquery lightly and Benjamin’s orchestration is a charming example of English 20th century neo-classicism.

These 20th century confections are delightful pieces, providing you are not expecting real baroque music. Hoff and the ECO bring out their charm and, slight though they are, you can understand how oboists have used such works as crowd-pleasers. A disc comprising just the Bryan, Barbirolli and Benjamin items would have been an utter delight.

Unfortunately the players barely change their style for the older pieces. The ECO plays in some sort of generic, one-size-fits-all way. They are very stylish, with crisp playing and plenty of bounce, but the overall effect is given something of a romantic sheen. Ian Watson makes an efficient music director, but I felt that the dominant personality was Hoff’s. His technique is essentially classical/romantic so one can’t really complain if he plays Marcello and Albinoni the way he would play Mozart.

Perhaps that is not the point. If you can put your nit-picking hat away and just sit back, then there is much to enjoy on this disc, notably the seductive tone of Hoff’s oboe playing and his apparently effortless technique.

Robert Hugill

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