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Antonín REICHA (1770-1836)
Quintet in F, Op.107, for Oboe and String Quartet (c.1821) [27:17]
Antal DORÁTI (1906-1988)
Notturno and Capriccio for Oboe and String Quartet (1926) [13:45]
Malcolm ARNOLD (1921-2006)
Oboe Quartet, Op.61 (1957) [12:03]
Adam Halicki (oboe)
Camerata Quartet (Wlodzimierz Promiński, Andrzej Kordykiewicz (violins); Piotr Reichert (viola); Roman Hoffman (cello))
rec. Reformed Church, Ins, Switzerland, 2001. DDD.
Booklet with notes in English, French, German and Polish.
DUX 0583 [53:05]
Experience Classicsonline

My first thought at seeing the contents of this CD was that the two twentieth-century works made strange bedfellows for Reicha. Despite the attempt in the notes to link the three pieces as classical pops – not a description which I’d readily apply to the Doráti Notturno – those initial doubts about the wisdom of the coupling were never wholly dispelled and led to my withholding an otherwise deserved ‘thumbs-up’. Paradoxically, one of the strengths of these performances, that the players respond well to the different styles of the three composers, contributes to my reservations. I can see the logic of such a programme for, say, the BBC Radio 3 Lunchtime Concerts from the Wigmore Hall – indeed, the programme here is just about the length of one of those concerts – but we tend to expect a more unified programme on CD.
Reicha is usually regarded as bridging the Classical and Romantic periods. The Quintet which opens the recording is quite a substantial work in four movements. Despite the late-ish date, it harks back more to Mozart than forward to Berlioz. A pleasant piece, though hardly memorable – the long first movement rather outstays its welcome; his Wind Quintets are rightly better known – it has been recorded by Sarah Francis and the Allegri Quartet on Hyperion Helios CDH55015 – an excellent recording, at budget price, and more logically coupled than on this Dux CD, with works by his contemporaries, Kreutzer’s Grand Quintet and Crusell’s Divertimento, Op.9. (Don’t be confused by the fact that Hyperion refer to him as Antoine Reicha, the name which he adopted when he settled in France. He also figures as Anton in some quarters.)
The Dux performance is attractive, stylish and lively; though the Hyperion is a little brisker, there is little to choose between them. Halicki plays with an attractive rounded tone and he is well supported if, indeed, that is the right word for a piece in which the oboe and the quartet are harmoniously interwoven.
Confusingly, the work has also been billed as a Quintet for Clarinet and Strings, in which form a free online score is available. Ignore the date 1890 given on this website, presumably the date of publication of the edition which has been scanned. I don’t believe that the clarinet version has ever been recorded.
I had encountered Antal Doráti as a conductor – his years as conductor of the Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra and later of the BBC Symphony Orchestra coincided with my growing realisation that there was more to classical music than my frankly unsuccessful teenage attempts to learn to play the piano; many of his recordings from that period, on the Mercury label, are still prime recommendations. It was his Minneapolis version of the 1812 Overture, complete with real cannon and portentous commentary by Deems Taylor, which introduced me to that work. His BBC concerts were also my introduction to many pieces of classical music. I recall his attempts to get English-speakers to pronounce his name correctly, with the stress on the first syllable, an attempt which he finally gave up as hopeless - what wonderful linguists we Anglophones are! Doráti’s Decca recording of the complete Haydn symphonies with the Philharmonia Hungarica was a timely reminder that there was more to Haydn than the London and Paris symphonies and still holds an honoured place in the catalogue: I recently found myself preferring Doráti’s versions of Symphonies 9-12 to a new Naxos recording of these works.
I had never before encountered Doráti as a composer, apart from a vague memory that two of his symphonies were once recorded. Nor, indeed, had I realised that he was something of a polymath. The website devoted to his memory is well worth visiting. The Notturno and Capriccio has not, to my knowledge, received any other recording: if you want this piece, you will have to buy this Dux recording. Like the Reicha, it is an attractive, though hardly memorable piece. It owes a good deal to Debussy and Ravel, but that is not meant to imply that it is derivative: indeed, in its tougher, more angular moments Doráti’s style is very much his own – “recognisably modern yet not afraid of melody”, as he put it. The slow, mysterious introduction to the Notturno might have come from Pelléas et Melisande, albeit with a hint of an accent from Dorati’s native Hungary. As the movement develops, the pensive mood becomes more turbulent. The Capriccio, as its name implies, is a playful movement, with more than a hint of the English pastoral, and it receives a suitably lively performance here. The oboe is even less of a soloist here than in the Reicha – more fully integrated as a fifth instrument among equals.
We certainly owe Dux a debt of gratitude for recording this piece: it made me want to hear more of Doráti’s music and it bears repeated hearings better than the Reicha. For a work with no comparisons, I have to take the interpretation and performance here very much on trust, but I see no reason not to do so.
Arnold’s chamber music is becoming more widely available, as witness the delightful East Winds Naxos recording of his Wind Chamber Music to which I responded as positively as did Michael Cookson here on Musicweb (8.570294). The Oboe Quartet, dedicated to Leon Goossens, is one of his most cheerful works. The players here ably capture the sometimes angular jauntiness of the opening Allegro non troppo and final Vivace con brio, as well as the more pensive moments of the Allegretto middle movement; this piece rounds off an attractive CD.
The recording throughout is good, wide-ranging and with a nice sense of the placement of the instruments, if a little close. The oboe is a little too prominent at times in the Reicha.
The English translation of the notes is doubtless accurate but it is strained and highly unidiomatic. When will record companies realise that they need native speakers to produce their translations? The claim that “Queen Elisabeth in 1933 raised [Arnold] to the nobility” is ludicrous on two counts: the date (at least the notes in the other languages correct this) and the fact that a knighthood does not amount to nobility.
Brian Wilson


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