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Camille saint-saŽns (1835-1921)

Sonata for oboe and piano, Op.166 (1921) [10:55]
Henri Dutilleux (b.1916)
Oboe Sonata (1947) [11:10]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Oboe Sonata (1962) [13:37]
Marcel MIHALOVICI (1898-1985)
Sonatina, Op.13 (1924) [13:03]
Makoto SHINOHARA (b. 1931)
Obsession (1960) [8:46]
Pauline Oostenrijk (oboe)
Ivo Janssen (piano)
rec. Frits Philipszaal, Eindhoven, Netherlands, 22-24 May 1995. DDD.
Experience Classicsonline

Vanguard Classics recordings tend to flit in and out of the catalogue, as the fortunes of the company wax and wane. Their original appearance in Europe was courtesy of the Philips label. The present recording was made in a Philips studio in that company’s home town of Eindhoven. Now Regis and Alto are offering some of their recordings of operas and oratorios and Challenge Classics are reissuing some of their recordings of chamber music.
The title of this recording, made by Vanguard in 1995, is a pun on the name of the instrument and that of the final piece – take out the italicised letters oe to form the word Obsession. Three very different works by French composers open the recital, which is completed by pieces by composers whom I must confess not to have heard of before, though Mihalovici has found his way into the latest Oxford Companion to Music: the notes about these in the booklet are very welcome.
The Saint-SaŽns piece makes an attractive opening to the programme, a blend of late romanticism with neo-classicism immediate in its appeal but hardly memorable. The Dutilleux and Poulenc Sonatas are more substantial pieces; though neither could claim to be the most important of its composer’s works they are both well worth hearing. More importantly, if you don’t yet know Dutilleux, I urge you to try his Cello Concerto, tout un monde lointain
The Poulenc is dedicated to Prokofiev and there are echoes of his music here, but it was with Benjamin Britten’s chamber music for oboe that I felt the greatest affinity. The central scherzo movement is most entertaining music in what might be described as the almost generic French 20th-century style – by which I don’t mean to be disparaging, since it’s a style which I find very appealing. The finale, though marked Dťploration, is saved for me from being “grey and deathly”, as the notes describe it, by the “flowing melodies” to which those same notes also refer. Otherwise, those notes, by Ronald Vermeulen, are very helpful and the English translation is idiomatic.
The Mihalovici work, though described as a Sonatina, is actually the second most substantial piece here. Attractive as it is, especially the lively rondo finale (vivo e gioccoso), I thought at times that it out-stayed its welcome; it is not a piece to which I shall return very often.
The final piece by Shinohara rounds off the programme very well. Though he was a student of Messiaen and Stockhausen, this is not particularly avant-garde music, perhaps because it was written as a competition piece. It’s hardly any more angular than Messiaen – much as I like Messiaen’s music, I can think of several of his pieces from which the faint-hearted would have more need to be warned off – and it’s certainly not in the league of Stockhausen, of whose music I have to admit that I’m not a fan. The piano writing is certainly reminiscent of Messiaen. It ends very powerfully. Ultimately, however, it doesn’t ‘go’ anywhere for me in the same way that Messiaen’s music does, though it might make a good film score.
I had previously come across Pauline Oostenrijk only as a performer in baroque music – her deleted Vanguard recording of concertos by members of the Bach family was well received – but she seems equally at home in this 20th-century repertoire. She has received acclaim for her performance of some of the music of Alexander Voormolen for Chandos – see appreciative reviews by JQ and JP – and her playing here is also excellent. She is very ably supported by Ivo Janssen and the recording does them both full justice. The impressive CVs of both performers are given in the booklet, including the information about Janssen’s own label, Void Classics.
An attractive recording, then, which I enjoyed hearing, but hardly essential listening. I applaud Challenge Classics for reissuing it, but I can’t imagine that it’s going to have huge sales potential, despite the perky photograph of Pauline Oostenrijk on the cover. There’s just so much more out there that I’d recommend ahead of this. The perceived lack of widespread appeal is my only reason for withholding the otherwise deserved ‘thumbs up’ accolade.
Brian Wilson


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