This new recording was recorded in Berlin, not in Venice as the cover says. It’s
also pretty big on personality – that of Albrecht Mayer himself,
principal oboist of the Berlin Phil, photographed on the cover
‘playing’ (?) his oboe at the prow of a gondola and several times
in double-page spreads in the brochure. He actually appears twice
in some of the two-page spreads. All of which made me fear the
I’m very pleased to report, however, that my worst
expectations were not realised; far from it, in fact – this
turned out to be a most enjoyable recording, very well performed
and recorded. Of course, the opening adaptation of one movement
from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons is an unashamed play to the
pop market, like those CDs of Vivaldi Adagios and The
Only Baroque CD You’ll Ever Need! Once that’s out of the
way, however, everything goes uphill. In any case, the Four
Seasons are such great music that they lend themselves to
all kinds of arrangements; this one is no worse than the flute
and recorder arrangements, several of which are on the market.
If you look at this as a sampler of the oboe concerto
at the hands of the acknowledged masters, Vivaldi, (Alessandro)
Marcello and Albinoni, with pieces by the less famous Platti
and Lotti thrown in, it emerges very successfully. The two
less well-known composers emerge successfully from their juxtaposition
with their betters.
I hadn’t come across Lotti other than as the composer
of the famous Crucifixus – he shares Pachelbel’s fate
of being a one-work composer in the general perception – but
I rather think that his Oboe d’amore Concerto is going to vie
with the serene Albinoni Op.9/2 to remain my abiding favourite
from the works recorded here. Perhaps it’s because I love the
mellower tones of the oboe d’amore – like the viola d’amore,
it’s one of my favourite baroque instruments. As the booklet
says, the Vivaldi is the most dazzling and virtuosic oboe concerto
of its time, but for me it takes second place to the Lotti.
Are there more riches from this source?
Like the movement from the Four Seasons,
the Benedetto Marcello piece is Mayer’s own arrangement, this
time of a vocal canzona. I hadn’t been sure that it
would work but, in fact, the oboe replaces the vocal line here
as effectively as it replaces the violin in Vivaldi. He did
something similar in the Handel CD which I mention below.
Mayer plays throughout with great beauty of tone,
though he doesn’t prettify the music in any way, except to include
in his performance of the Alessandro Marcello concerto embellishments
written out by JS Bach, no less, in his arrangement of this
work for harpsichord – ornamentation which works very well,
with no sense that it’s spliced on.
Mayer is accompanied by the New Seasons Ensemble,
a small ensemble (from the Berlin Phil?) who are fully in tune
with Mayer and the whole enterprise is very successful. The
one reservation which my colleague Stephen Vasta had about Mayer’s
earlier recording of Handel with the Sinfonia Varsovia concerned
the occasional gruffness in the basses (see review)
which is certainly not a problem with this small ensemble.
Much as I prefer period-instrument performances, when modern-instrument
playing is as good as this, I’m prepared to forgive anything.
I look forward to hearing more from them – perhaps there is
more neglected repertoire like the Lotti for them to perform?
Otherwise, the success of this new recording should
lead listeners to explore more fully the wonderful repertoire
of oboe concertos by Albinoni and Alessandro Marcello. The
Albinoni concerto which rounds off the recording so well comes
from his Op.9 collection which has been very well recorded by
Collegium Musicum 90 on period instruments (CHAN0579, 0602 and
0610, with the Op.7 concertos) and by the London Virtuosi on
modern instruments (Naxos 8.553002, 8.553035 and 8.550739, also
with Op.7). There are also excellent super-budget selections
on Regis (RRC1095, Sarah France and the London Harpsichord Ensemble)
and Warner Apex (09274 90202, Pierre Pierlot and the Solisti
Collegium Musicum 90 also offer all six Alessandro
Marcello oboe concertos, known as la Cetra, this time
at lower-mid-price on Chandos CHAN0744X.
The recording is excellent – close but not over-close
– and Austin Baer’s notes in the booklet are more than adequate,
if you can find them among the two-page photo spreads. I did
wonder why the two columns in which the notes are printed had
to be of unequal width and I’d have liked the words of the Benedetto
Marcello canzona, not just the opening line. I can tell
you that it is the third of his Canzonette madrigalesche
e arie per camera (Bologna, 1717) and that Ibert
uses the same text in his Canzone madrigalesca (1921),
but that doesn’t help either of us much.
Like other Universal full-price recordings which
have come my way recently, the CD is housed in the round-cornered
type of super jewel case more normally associated with SACDs.
These are certainly more robust than the older type of case and
are capable of holding two CDs, one on top of the other on the
rather elongated rose, as with the Warner reissue of the medieval
Carmina Burana in their Alte Werk 50 series (2564 69765-9).
Strongly recommended, incidentally, if you missed out on this
set when it first appeared or, like me, managed to obtain only
one of the CDs).