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
last but not least the ‘feel’ of the CD in my hand.
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
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
Gerard Hoffnung CDs
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