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alternatively Crotchet


Benjamin Britten (1913-1976)
Anatomy of a Masterpiece: Six Metamorphoses after Ovid
Op.49 – Study CD
Trs. 1-6 Metamorphoses – George Caird (1951) [13:29]
Tr. 7 Diary Sketch by George Caird [1:52]
Trs. 8-29 Performances from the Compositions Sketch and Fair Copy by George Caird
Trs. 30-35 Metamorphoses: Joy Boughton (1951) [13:16]
Trs. 36–41 Metamorphoses: Nicholas Daniel (1951) [13:48]
George Caird (oboe); Joy Boughton (oboe); Nicholas Daniel (oboe). rec. Joy Boughton: BBC Broadcast 3 October 1952; Nicolas Daniel: Concert Hall of the Musikhochschule, Trossingen, Germany, 11 October 2007; George Caird: 27-28 May 2007, Adrian Boult Hall, Birmingham Conservatoire
OBOE CLASSICS CC2017 [59:39]


Experience Classicsonline

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.

Secondly there 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 perspectives.

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 booklet.

The essay concludes with brief biographies of the performers, an extensive bibliography and discography.

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 great work.

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 helpful information.

The musicologist 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.

John France




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