I grew up with the
name of Janet Craxton as a frequent presence on BBC Radio
3 in the 1960s and 1970s. But for her radio activities this
disc would not exist. Jeremy Polmear’s Oboe Classics have negotiated
rights to the tapes. All are in pristine audio though the Stoker
item is in mono. The sound reaches out and clasps the listener
into the experience.
One would think from
these programmes that Craxton was a specialist in the more robust
British moderns. In fact her broadcasts also included the Malcolm
Arnold Oboe Quartet, Berkeley’s Sinfonia
Concertante, Boughton’s First Oboe Concerto and the Reizenstein
Sonata. I am not sure how many of these radio tapes also survive.
Commercially she recorded the RVW Blake Songs with Ian Partridge
Routh will be well known as a composer, as the artistic director
of the Redcliffe concerts and as the proprietor of the Redcliffe
CD label. Craxton played in one of Routh's concerts in 1958.
His short Oboe Quartet was written with Craxton making suggestions
as the piece developed. Here the oboe takes on the persona of
a shivering chilly Orpheus - a piper in a Stravinskian wilderness.
The piece is in a single compact movement with an introduction,
twelve variations and a coda. Routh considered Craxton the foremost
British oboist of her generation.
Maconchy's tensely tortured and dissonantly lyrical Oboe Quartet
is from the same period as her Tenth Quartet and the cantata Ariadne.
Maconchy’s daughter, Nicola LeFanu refers to Janet's solo role
here as a kind of Ariadne abandoned by Theseus to loneliness,
grief and anger. I am not sure I feel the anger but I certainly
sense desperation in the cascading exasperation of the allegro
molto. In the poco lento dolento there is also a touching
Stoker's music has
been well covered in the past by John France and others.
Stoker’s 1970s Polemics for oboe and string trio is
a work of darting argumentative activity, probably the most
modern of the three so far. That is until we get to the Webernian
Variations by Nicola Lefanu, a thing of evocative
shreds and tendrils with dissonance freely in gear and emotions
suggested by shards and motes floating in the air.
Berkeley's 1967 Oboe Quartet has, in the first of its four movements,
something of the Norfolk fens. The very full essays provided
by Brian Hawkins remind us that this is a true quartet with
the instruments treated equally. Berkeley's pursed-lips style
is well and truly in place but the chirpy presto is catchy
and a necessary contrast with the haunted fens of the two outer
movements where Berekely is like van Dieren or Goossens at their
I have memories of
Driving out the Death being on television in the early
1970s - when I was least ready to appreciate it. It tends to
the ultima thule of modernism with dissonance part of
its unforgiving fibre. Hearing it again now I realise Lutyens
plangent suggestions of melody melted and reformed in a Dali-esque
landscape where blessing and nightmare stalk the traveller.
The movements of the Lutyens are: Carrying out of summer
- Pantomimos; Carrying out of winter - Euche; Driving
out the Death - Dithyrambos. The piece was commissioned
by Craxton. Lutyens also wrote Plenum II for oboe and
orchestra which Craxton premiered at the RFH with Andrew Davis
conducting in 1973.
Its part of Oboe Classics’
house-style that their notes are readable, thorough and informative.
Just so here.
This is a thornier
blend of oboe pieces than is usual from Oboe Classics but it’s
well worth the effort.
see also Review
by John France
Links to other reviews of Stoker's music: