First of all let’s look at what is included in this impressive
and innovative release from Jeremy Polmear’s ‘Oboe Classics’.
It is immediately clear that something is different; this is evident
from the fact the CD is presented in a DVD-style box! However
the reason for this is obvious – it is needed to house the massive
20,000 word essay written by George Caird; more of that later.
are three full performances of this work – including
one from 1952 by the work’s dedicatee, Joy Boughton. But perhaps
the most interesting part of this ‘study disc’ are the 23
tracks of Britten's sketches which are analysed and played
by George Caird.
It is worth quoting
the opening paragraphs of the booklet: “This recording sets
out to provide a complete overview of Benjamin’s Britten’s
masterpiece for solo oboe … not only is this work unique in
the oboe repertoire but it is also one of the most distinctive
examples of a solo single-line instrumental writing from any
age”. Caird continues “This recording has based itself on
an investigation of the literary and artistic background that
lies behind the work’s creation …” And finally, he hopes that
“... these notes will offer performance suggestions based
on Britten’s own remarks on the work, views and performances
of players from its dedicatee Joy Boughton onwards and the
shared experience of teachers and aficionados.”.
The booklet is
a major production that surely sets the standard for any future
venture of this order. It is divided into three parts.
The first section
explores the work’s background, the literary influences and
Ovidus Naso himself. Mention is also made of the stimulus
that the visual arts had on Britten’s composition.
The largest part
of the essay is dedicated to an analysis of the sources and
interpretations. There is a discussion of the printed editions,
the metronome markings, and a typescript of a letter from
BB to Friedrich Krebs which outlines Britten’s views of the
interpretation of this work. There follows a detailed discussion
of each movement – from both interpretative and descriptive
A major part of
this CD is given over to a performance of the surviving sketches
– these include a diary sketch, the composition sketch and
the ‘Fair Copy’. These sketches are printed in full in the
The essay concludes
with brief biographies of the performers, an extensive bibliography
I must not forget
to mention the music! Three excellent performances of this
work – two contemporary and one historical, the first broadcast
performance - are showcased here. I am not going to express
a preference for any particular version – suffice to say that
all three are essential for an in-depth appreciation of this
I look into the
future and I wonder if this format will become an accepted
part of the musicologists’ apparatus? In the meantime I guess
that this Study CD will appeal to a number of discrete parties.
Firstly, there are performers who will benefit from the detailed
analysis – both written and audible - for their better appreciation
of the genesis and realisation of this work. For example the
chapter on the metronome marks of the different versions and
the printed editions of the score must provide valuable and
will surely be impressed with the whole package – however
I guess the discussion of the work’s sketches will be of particular
interest. And finally the general listener will surely enjoy
the opportunity of hearing one of the 20th century’s
chamber music masterpieces in three versions along with detailed
literary notes to enable them to relate each movement to the
craft of Ovid.
I thought of other
works that might benefit with this ‘study guide’ approach.
Britten’s Young Person’s Guide would be a good candidate
- complete with Sir Malcolm’s original film of the work. And
then I wondered about a Beethoven Symphony with its
hard won final form. And would a CD exploring the genesis
and reworking of RVW’s London Symphony be of interest?
I showed this new
CD to a friend. Her opinion was that she hoped that Oboe Classics
would play a long game: she explained that this CD must be available
for many years and not be deleted after the first ‘pressing’ else
the scholarly value will be dissipated in a few short months.
She felt that it was a major reference document that needs to
be regarded as an important contribution to Britten studies. I
concur absolutely with her thoughts.