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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

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Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Concerto for oboe and orchestra in C, K314 (1777) [19:27]
Richard STRAUSS (1864-1949)
Concerto for oboe and orchestra in D, AV144 (1945, rev.1948) [24:26]
Douglas Boyd (oboe)
Chamber Orchestra of Europe/Paavo Berglund
rec. Henry Wood Hall, London, November 1986
COE RECORDS CDCOE 808 [44:13]

 

The oboe has a fairly small repertoire of concertos – unlike the flute – but the best ones, of which two are recorded here, are delightful works.  The Mozart is what I suppose we must rather bizarrely describe as a ‘middle period’ work, having been composed in 1777 when the composer was a mature twenty-one! It was written for the principal oboist of the Salzburg orchestra, an Italian by the name of Giuseppe Ferendi.  It is an entirely characteristic work, perfectly conceived for the instrument, which makes it all the more odd that for many, many years it was Mozart’s arrangement in D major for solo flute that was commonly heard rather than this original version.

Douglas Boyd, principal oboe of the Chamber Orchestra of Europe when this recording was made, gives a wholly idiomatic performance, polished in technique, elegant in phrasing and imaginatively projected.  He understands Mozart instinctively, so that he is able to be expressive and charming without stepping outside the stylistic bounds.  The cadenzas he uses, for none exist by Mozart for this piece, are by Boyd himself for the first movement, Lester for the Adagio, and Bourgue (presumably Maurice of that ilk) for the finale, and all eschew outlandish fireworks and remain reassuringly in sight of the prevailing tonality.  There’s nothing more disorientating than arriving at the cadenza of a lovely Mozart concerto in, say, C major, and suddenly being subjected to whole-tone scales on F# or some such.  Nothing like that here, and Boyd and Berglund, a sensitive but positive accompanist, give a particularly witty version of the mischievous finale.

The Strauss concerto was written, in contrast, in the composer’s old age, in the difficult post-war years when he and his wife had moved to Switzerland.  It makes the perfect companion for the Mozart, however, as it is quite deliberately imbued with the spirit of the eighteenth century, and of Mozart in particular.  It was first performed in Zurich in 1946 by Maurice Saillet, and, as the booklet notes tell us, Leon Goossens, the great English oboist, made the first recording with Galliera and the Philharmonia.  It is a classic recording, though the strain does sometimes show, and Goossens is forced here and there to take a breath that upsets the flow of phrases, also getting his fingers in a tangle from time to time.

No such problems for Boyd, though his reading is very close in feeling to Goossens, part of the same tradition.  He bends the music lovingly, making the most of the alternately lyrical and playful music of the first movement.  Berglund and the CEO players respond wholeheartedly, and there are notable contributions from principal clarinet and bassoon.  The slow movement is deeply expressive, and Boyd achieves a breathtaking intimacy with the final pianissimo phrase before the cadenza (track 4 around 14:50).

I did wonder at one point if these were recordings of live performances; no audience noise or applause, but quite distinct ‘off-mic’ sounds such as soloist blowing water out of keys in his bars’ rest, orchestral players shifting around etc.  Not enough to be off-putting, however, and Boyd’s reading is a joy from beginning to the end.  It would be my number one choice of currently available versions, Boyd’s sound being easier on the ear than Heinz Holliger’s very strong-flavoured tone on Philips, while the orchestral playing under Berglund is more characterful and sharper in detail than Ray Still’s version with the Academy of London on Virgin.  Just 44 minutes may seem stingy, but this disc is packed with wonderful music-making, and, for my money, that’s ample compensation!

Gwyn Parry-Jones

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