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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

 

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Oboe Classics (includes mp3 samples)

 

Melodic Lines
Casimir-Théophile Lailliet (1837-1892) Terzetto, Op. 22 (??) [15:18]
Geoffrey Bush (1920-1998) Trio (1952) [11:04]
Barbara Thompson (b.1944) Green (2006) [5:37]
Madeleine Dring (1923-1977) Trio (1971) [15:26]
Richard Stoker (b.1938) Four Miniatures, Op.8 (1963) [5:45]
Francis Poulenc (1899-1963) Trio (1926) [12:48]
Jeremy Polmear (oboe)
Philip Gibbon (bassoon)
Diana Ambache (piano)
rec. St Michael’s Church, Highgate, London, 12-14 July 2006. DDD
OBOE CLASSICS CC2016 [67:07]
 


Jeremy Polmear and Oboe Classics go from strength to strength. I have had the pleasure and privilege of reviewing a number of these discs over the past year or so and I have been consistently impressed (see reviews of English Renaissance and Janet Craxton). And not only with the playing, but with the choice of repertoire, the sound quality, the programme notes and last but not least the ‘feel’ of the CD in my hand.
 
Polmear has recently explored much music that was written for his bewitching instrument in the United Kingdom. Listeners have been able to discover works by Maconchy, Bliss, Britten and Routh. Perhaps my greatest personal find was the recently rediscovered Oboe Quintet by Dorothy Gow- a masterpiece if ever there was one. Yet British Music is not the sole purpose of Oboe Classics remit. Recently I noticed an impressive CD of music by Luciano Berio: Mozart, Handel and Bach are represented elsewhere in the company’s small but beautifully proportioned catalogue.
 
‘Melodic Lines’ presents a fine concert of works that are mostly unknown to all but the keenest enthusiasts of woodwind music. The honourable exception to this is, of course, the well known Poulenc Trio of 1926.
 
The programme gets off to an excellent and quite charming start. The composer and instrumentalist Casimir-Théophile Lailliet is a name of which most people will be unaware. Seemingly he wrote primarily for his own instrument, the oboe. However he produced a catalogue of some thirty works that explore a variety of picturesque subjects. The present Terzetto is in three movements that combine to produce well balanced and perfectly poised music. It is one of those works that makes one wonder how it can have lain hidden in the vaults for so many years. The 19th century opera houses and salons of Maupassant’s Paris are never far off in the mind’s eye when listening to this music.
 
Geoffrey Bush sadly and unfairly is not well represented in the CD catalogues: at present he has only some seven or eight works on disc. Of course his two symphonies are recorded on Lyrita and these are certainly impressive major works and deserve to be in the libraries of all English Music enthusiasts (see review).

Bush’s reputation is generally (alas) confined to his vocal music - both choral works and solo songs - so it is good to have one of his rarer excursions into chamber music. The Trio was written in 1953 when the composer was in his early thirties. The work opens with a declamatory flourish and soon gets into an impressive ‘adagio maestoso.’ This is powerful music. However after a short pause, the mood changes to one of a quicksilver scherzo-like ‘vivace.’ Here we find the typical Bush fingerprints of wit, precision, shifting tonalities and syncopated rhythms. Then follows a gorgeous tune. Polmear suggests that it nods to Walton and this is appropriate. It is first heard on the oboe before being repeated on the bassoon and developed contrapuntally. But soon the ‘scherzo’ music returns and this leads into ‘big music’ before the movement comes to a mercurial end.
 
The second movement is noted as ‘poco lento-tempo di vivace.’ This is deep music compared to that which has gone before. Actually I feel it is full of sadness. I was reminded or Finzi in the way that the melody unfolds with an almost Bachian poise and balance. Yet this mood cannot last for ever. Soon the music becomes much more exploratory before repeating the Finzian tune, albeit in a more Spartan guise. A reprise of ‘quicksilver’ music brings the work towards its conclusion. It ends with a clever little figure from both oboe and bassoon.
 
Perhaps the least satisfying work on this CD is the latest. In fact it seems to have been contrived by Barbara Thompson specifically for this release – from an earlier incarnation for saxophone quartet. Simply entitled Green it seems to be a mere ramble – lacking development or interest or content. The opening chordal progressions on the piano appear to owe more to Handel’s Zadok the Priest or perhaps the first Prelude of Bach’s ‘48’ than anything more original! These well known musical icons have been worked over with a somewhat stilted Orientalism: it is as if ‘Handel goes East’! Not a piece I need or want to hear again. It is certainly the makeweight in this otherwise superb collection.
 
What a contrast with the previous pastiche is the finely wrought offering from Madeleine Dring. I know little of this composer’s work save the Festival Scherzo released on Hyperion CDA67316 (see review). I suppose that somehow I have always connected her name with descriptive piano pieces and incidental music for children’s radio and TV. According to Grove, Dring composes “in a light style, [writing] unpretentious and attractive chamber and instrumental works, teaching pieces and songs.” Yet this present Trio, written in 1971, certainly challenges this assumption. Of course there is no sense of the avant-garde about this work: she has not been influenced by the contemporaneous explorations of Heinz Holliger. What is presented here is a deeply thought out work that actually requires the listener to work quite hard. It is not light music: it is not immediately approachable. Poulenc seems to be the model – however the texture and tone of this work is in many ways more spare that that of the French master. Tunes and rhythmic interest abound, particularly in the final Allegro con brio. Yet the heart of the work is the ‘andante sostenuto’ and in these pages the listener is presented with some deep and sometimes bleak moments. This is a great work that definitely deserves our attention.
 
Richard Stoker's Four Miniatures for oboe, bassoon and piano is “short and sweet”. In fact it is just possible that it is a little too brief! This four movement work is extremely approachable and needs little commentary.
 
The first movement has the unusual title of 'ballabile'. The composer explains that this simply means 'suitable for dancing.' Certainly the mood of this music is appropriate. The ‘duettino’ is the heart of the work - I wish that it would go on a bit longer than the one minute twenty odd seconds that it does. This music is quiet, reflective and quite beautiful. The ‘intermezzo’ is attractive music that nods towards jazz in some indefinable manner. The last movement is quite French in character, but perhaps this reflects the composer's time studying with Nadia Boulanger? It certainly has its antecedents in Stravinsky and Poulenc, but it is not pastiche – it becomes Stoker’s own creation.
 
It is well written, if somewhat short. Like much of Stoker's music it little deserves being sidelined in the concert programmes and radio play lists. It is a near perfect work that in its own way is a minor masterpiece.
 
The Trio by Francis Poulenc is by far the best known and most frequently performed work here. In fact there are currently some thirteen recordings of this work. Poulenc liked writing music for a variety of combinations of wind instruments. Add to this a nod to neo-classicism alongside his native Gallic wit and we have a recipe for success. After a Stravinskian opening section the first movement is perhaps patterned on a Haydn ‘allegro’. Poulenc’s version is a beguiling presto full of colour and contrast. There is fun here as well as a few more reflective moments.
 
The slow movement is a quiet meditation which was described by the composer as “sweet and melancholic”. It is really quite lovely. The last movement is a rondo. It is the ideal vehicle for Poulenc’s exuberant style being modelled on a Saint-Saëns scherzo. It is full of ‘fast and bright’ music that never fails to please. The programme notes acknowledge the debt to Stravinsky but correctly conclude that the result is pure Poulenc.
 
In more general terms, the sound quality on this disc excellent throughout. In fact it achieves the desirable effect of making you believe that the soloists have actually joined you in the living room! And the oboe mechanism ‘clicks’ are rightly not edited out.
 
As always with Oboe Classics the programme notes are seriously impressive. Each of the works is described in some considerable detail – in fact six small essays have been written by Jeremy Polmear to help listeners enjoy the music. Then there are thumbnail biographies of each of the composers, which are printed apart from the discussion on the works. And finally there are excellent player notes. Altogether these 6000 words are a fine example of what sleeve-notes ought to be.

It can be argued that there are no earth-shattering masterpieces on this CD. Yet this would be disingenuous. Each of these works, Green excluded, is a fine contribution to a somewhat underplayed area of chamber music. Five of the six works demand to be considered for the repertoire of oboists and bassoonists. As I finished listening to this CD I tried to work out what piece had impressed me most. This is not an easy question. Perhaps it had to be Madeleine Dring with her Trio which is so different from the received reputation of her as being a ‘children’s’ composer. Maybe it is the Stoker with its nods towards the Gallic moods of his teacher. But finally I feel it has to be the Trio by Geoffrey Bush - a well balanced and poignant work that both moves and inspires.
 
John France

 

 



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