BARGAIN OF MONTH
Heinz Holliger Edition
Full contents listed at end of review
Rec. 1966-1991. ADD/DDD
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94054 [10 CDs: 58:54 + 46:11 + 48:24 + 45:36 + 69:21 + 49:15 + 50:48 + 48:25 + 76:17 + 64:21]
Listening to solo woodwind instrument is in many ways similar to listening to the human voice. We can listen for pure beauty of tone if we wish but this on its own rapidly becomes dull unless there is also some individuality of phrasing and line. Only then can real musical communication take place with the listener. I have heard too many players (and singers) with enviable tone and technique whose performances nonetheless are essentially a nullity when it comes to communication. There have been however a number of great oboists in whose hands the instrument speaks with astonishing eloquence. For me one of the greatest is Heinz Holliger, whose tone and technique are beyond praise but whose greatest asset is his ability to characterise the music he plays and thereby to communicate directly with the listener.
Heinz Holliger was born in 1939 in Langenthal in Switzerland. As well as oboe, he studied piano and composition (with Boulez) although he is unfortunately not represented in this set as a composer. Also absent are any of the major compositions he has inspired from others which utilise his ability to make use of “extended techniques” on the oboe. What Brilliant have done is simply to put together a series of his recordings from 1966 to 1991 of more conventional oboe music. These range from Albinoni and Vivaldi to Martinu and Honegger. In no way does it give a balanced view of the oboe repertoire but it does include many real gems.
To start with the best. In the two discs devoted to the music of Mozart the phrasing, the interaction between players and the sheer joy in the music are all near ideal. Seldom since the wonderful Leon Goossens version has a performance of the Oboe Quartet had quite as much sheer wit and character. The Sinfonia Concertante for wind is included in the reconstruction by Robert Levin for flute, oboe, horn and bassoon rather than in the version usually played today for oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn. The former is much more effective, especially as played here. The Divertimento K251 is a rare pleasure, but is also exceptionally enjoyable, especially when played with solo strings as it is here.
Discs 6 and 9 include - as well as the rather dull Concerto attributed to Haydn - a series of shorter works by such composers as Donizetti, Bellini, Moscheles and Hummel. These are essentially display pieces but are played here with a real understanding of their similarity to the vocal music of the period and of the opportunities this gives to the soloist to show off every possible bel canto effect. These discs also include an interesting Konzertstück by Julius Rietz, Sullivan’s composition teacher in Leipzig, and a Concerto by Josef Fiala which once again suggests that he was one of the dullest composers of the period. Arthur Benjamin’s wonderfully adept Concerto based on music by Cimarosa is given a particularly magical performance.
The last disc is devoted to music of the mid-twentieth century – Martin, Honegger and Martinu. This is full of surprisingly varied delights, although I could not help regretting the absence of by far the greatest oboe Concerto of that period, that of Richard Strauss. Holliger certainly recorded it and it would have fitted in well here.
The first five discs are devoted to music of the eighteenth century, one each for Vivaldi and Telemann and three for Albinoni. The Telemann disc is the real winner here - each of the five Concertos (four of them in minor keys) full of invention and played with real imagination and passion. The Vivaldi is also worth hearing, especially the double Concerto with bassoon (Klaus Thunemann) although I Musici, now in the context of modern period instrument groups, seem to play dully, heavily and without any especial insight. This is even more marked on the Albinoni discs which I found frankly dull. Worse still four of the Op. 7 Concertos are for strings alone, meaning that there is not even Holliger’s artistry to keep the listener’s interest alive. Whilst these discs might do for background listening I found it increasingly hard to pay real detailed attention to them.
Despite this, there is more than enough here to make this an unmissable bargain overall. As if the musical content were not enough, Brilliant have provided a 19 page essay by Susan Wynne Roberts and Ates Orga which gives admirable notes on the soloist and the music – a model of how such reissues should be presented. Taken as a whole this is a worthy tribute to a great oboist who is – above all – a great musician.
An unmissable bargain.
Full contents list
(all with Heinz Holliger, oboe and cor anglais)
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741) Concerto in C RV452 [6:23]; Concerto in D minor RV454 [8:17]; Concerto in G RV545 [10:03]; Concerto in C RV446 [8:48]; Concerto in A minor RV463 [9:31]; Concerto in C RV447 [14:33]
Klaus Thunemann (bassoon) (RV545): I Musici; recorded in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland in July 1975 and August 1981
Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767) Concerto in E minor [11:24]; Concerto in D minor [8:43]; Concerto in C minor [9:15]; Concerto in F minor [7:37]; Concerto in D [8:42]
Academy of St Martin in the Fields; Iona Brown (director): recorded in London in November 1981
Tomaso ALBINONI (1671-1751) Concertos Op 7 No 1 in D [3:56]; No 2 in C [4:29]; No 3 in B flat [8:00]; No 4 in G [7:22]; No 5 in C [4:56]; No 6 in D [7:15]; No 7 in A [5:07]; No 8 in D [6:00]; No 9 in F [6:09]; No 10 in B flat [5:59]; No 11 in C [6:41]; No 12 in C [8:08]; Sonatas a cinque Op 2 No 5 in D [8:20]; No 6 in G minor [7:29]
Maurice Bourgue (oboe); I Musici: recorded in La Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland 1990-1991
Concertos Op 9 No 2 in D minor [12:22]; No 3 in C [11:52]; No 5 in C [10:23]; No 8 in G minor [11:02]; No 9 in C [11:02]; No 11 in B flat [11:38]
Maurice Bourgue (oboe); I Musici: recorded in Italy 1966-7
Joseph HAYDN (1732-1809) Oboe Concerto in C Hob.VIIg:C1 [22:48]; Arthur BENJAMIN (1893-1960) Oboe Concerto in D minor on themes by Domenico CIMAROSA (1749-1801) [10:11]; Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848) Concertino for Cor Anglais [10:54]; Andante sostenuto for oboe and harp [3:32]
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, David Zinman; Ursula Holliger (harp): recorded 1986-9
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791) Oboe Quartet in F k370[17:23]; Adagio in D K580a [5:48]; Divertimento No 11 in D K251 [27:19]; Sinfonia Concertante in Eb K297b [28:22]; Oboe Concerto in C K314[19:44]
Orlando Quartet; Hermann Baumann, Michel Gasciarrino (horns); Henk Guldemond (double bass): recorded Enkhuizen, The Netherlands and elsewhere in 1984
Vincenzo BELLINI (1801-1835) Oboe Concerto in E flat [6:28]; Bernard MOLIQUE (1802-1869) Oboe Concertino in G minor [14:49]; Ignaz MOSCHELES (1794-1870) Concertante in G for flute and oboe [14:05]; Julius RIETZ (1812-1877) Konzertstück in F minor Op 33 [13:42]; Josef FIALA (1748-1816) Concerto for cor anglais in E flat [11:13]; Johann Nepomuk HUMMEL (1778-1837) Adagio, theme and variations in F minor [14:37]
Aurèle Nicolet (flute); Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Frankfurt, Eliahu Inbal (conductor); English Chamber Orchestra, Raymond Leppard (conductor): recorded in London in November 1968 and in Germany in August 1975
Frank MARTIN (1890-1974) Trois Danses [17:06]; Petite complainte [3:58]; Pièce Brève [2:20]; Arthur HONEGGER (1892-1955) Concerto da camera [17:11]; Petite Suite [2:45]; Antigone [2:40]; Bohuslav MARTINU (1890-1959) Oboe Concerto [17:20]
Ursula Holliger (harp); Aurèle Nicolet (flute); John Constable (piano); Academy of St Martin in the Fields; Sir Neville Marriner (conductor): recorded in St John’s, Smith Square, London in October 1991