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Bruno MADERNA (1920-1973)
Concerto for Oboe and Chamber Ensemble No.1 (1962) [19:27]
Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra No.2 (1967) [19:33]
Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra No.3 (1973) [16:53]
Fabian Menzel (oboe)
Rundfunk-Sinfonieorchester Saarbrücken/Michel Stern
rec. Funkhaus auf dem Halberg, Saarbrücken – Großer Sendesaal, live; 20 September 1996 (Concerto No.1), 24 September 1996 (Concerto No.2), Live; 15 May 1994 (Concerto No.3)
COL LEGNO WWE 20037 [55:54]

There is always a duality with Maderna’s music. As a composer directly involved with classes at Darmstadt for an extended period (1954-67) his serialist credentials are a central feature of his work. While his music is archetypically modernist there are always the threads which bound him to the neo-baroque conservatism of his teacher Malipiero, and the warm expressiveness which he inherited from his native Italy. Modern yes: ugly or ungraceful; no. One of his final compositions, the Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra No.3, rubs temporal shoulders with an opera, Satyricon, also from 1973, in which Maderna indicted modernism, ultimately rejecting the abstract and returning to what might be seen as ancient, or post-modern qualities of lyricism and common comprehensibility. Listening to some of the melodic lines and gestures in the Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra No.2 it isn’t a great leap to imagine such a change in direction, even though in all of these works there can be no claims of instant approachability from the man on the street.

Concerto for Oboe and Chamber Ensemble No.1 has the most serial feel – notes being weighed with Webernesque significance, growing out of silence, the colour of instrumental timbre developing from solo lines weaving through the ensemble into a subtle tapestry of multi-layered sound. Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra No.2 opens with wind chords which must have blown almost instantly on the Mediterranean wind into Holland. I could mention a few Dutch composers who have made a lifelong career from this mere 17 seconds by Maderna. Like the first concerto there is a significant percussion section, but as with all of the other instruments, these sounds are introduced as detail – points or splashes of colour which can be as gentle as a stellar curtain or have the impact of a gibbous moon rising with disturbing suddenness over the desert. Shifting and restless, the music demands concentrated attention, but as previously mentioned, the solo oboe often lifts the ear beyond the semantic complications in the orchestra into more lyrical realms. At one point the soloist joins what almost sounds like a choir of oboes, and the orchestra – understanding the oboist’s message, adopts and develops his soulful melodic lines.

Opening with a reedy overtone squeak from the solo oboe, the Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra No.3 extends the longing, almost nostalgic nature of elements in the second concerto. Here the solo and orchestra often explore beyond and return to a central sustained pedal note. Such aural references, and a generally more transparent orchestration, give this concerto a lighter feel – lighter in terms of weight, or of light though a stained-glass window, but not in terms of message. This is the only concerto where the orchestra is almost allowed a full ‘tutti’ sound at one or two points – but again, everything is controlled and disciplined: detail, colour and expressive line is the all-important factor – the roughness of the brass almost appears like an intruder into the private, intimate world of the strings and soloist.

Having all of these works on one disc in a way creates a new work, a grand ‘Symphony for Oboe and orchestra.’ The unity of style in Maderna’s work and the contrast between each piece allows each work to belong to the other as a movement in a single narrative on a Mahlerian scale. The playing is exquisite, with Fabian Menzel’s oboe tone strong and penetrating where required, but always beautifully intonated and coloured, an instrument one can listen to for a long time, and that’s not always true when it comes to oboes. The live recordings are as good as noise-free, and the consistency in engineering and location helps make this set of recordings to be greater than the sum of its parts. Col Legno are to be applauded for bringing these radio recordings to a greater public, with a set of concertos very much representative of one of the grand masters from the last century.

Dominy Clements


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