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Janet Craxton: Music for Oboe and Strings
Francis ROUTH (b.1927) Oboe Quartet Op.34 (1977) [9:51]
Elizabeth MACONCHY (1907-1994) Oboe Quartet (1972) [15:57]
Richard STOKER (b. 1938) Polemics for Oboe and String Trio (1970) [11:37]
Nicola LEFANU (b. 1947) Variations for Oboe Quartet (1968) [10:51]
Lennox BERKELEY (1903-1989) Quartet for Oboe and String Trio (1967) [14:20]
Elisabeth LUTYENS (1906-1983) Driving out the Death for Oboe and String Trio Op.81 (1971) [14:23]
Janet Craxton (oboe)
London Oboe Quartet (Perry Hart, violin; Brian Hawkins, viola; Kenneth Heath, cello (except Routh); Charles Tunnell, cello (Routh))
rec. Routh: studio recording, BBC Broadcasting House, London, 9 September 1978; Maconchy: live, Concert Hall, Broadcasting House, London, 22 March 1974; Stoker: studio recording, BBC Broadcasting House, London, 23 December 1971 (mono); LeFanu: studio recording, BBC Maida Vale Studios London, c.1973; Berkeley: live, Wigmore Hall, London 22 May 1968; Lutyens: live, Concert Hall, Broadcasting House, London, 1 May 1975. ADD
OBOE CLASSICS CC2011 [77:35]

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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 for EMI.

Francis 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 sadness.

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 dankest.

I have memories of LutyensDriving 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.

Rob Barnett

see also Review by John France



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