Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
The Girl with the Flaxen Hair [2:40]
Clair de Lune [5:13]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1924)
Pavane, Op. 50 [5:54]
Sicilienne, Op. 54 [3:48]
Jean FRANÇAIX (1912-1997)
L’Horloge de Flore [17:07]
Gotthard ODERMATT (b. 1974)
Été, Op. 18 [11:02]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Pavane pour une infant défunte [5:55]
Vincent D’INDY (1851-1931)
Fantaisie sur des themes populaires français [14:54]
Erik SATIE (1866-1925)
Gymnopédie No. 1 [3:37]
Reynaldo HAHN (1875-1947)
À Chloris [4:15]
Albrecht Mayer (oboe, oboe d’amore, cor anglais)
Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Mathias Mönius
rec. St Jude-on-the-Hill, Hampstead Garden Suburb, London, April 2010
DECCA 4782564 [74:25]
Albrecht Mayer has been making something of a name for himself with, for want of a better phrase, concept albums. First came Venice, then came Bach. For me his Bach album was pleasing to the ear if a little random in its content. This time his unifying concept is at its loosest. The music on offer has barely anything to do with Paris: it’s just that it features (mostly) French composers. But if the music is good then who really cares about the theme, and here the music and the playing is very good indeed.
Mayer’s vast experience, both as soloist and as principal oboe of the Berlin Philharmonic, means that his playing is among the most silky and alluring of any instrumentalist you will hear today. Indeed, it is the sheer attractiveness of his playing that will bring me back to this disc. Most of the pieces he plays are special arrangements, mostly by Chris Hazell, and nearly all are transposed into a key that will suit the range of his instrument better. These two things have the effect of casting often familiar works into a new light. Fauré’s Pavane, for example, initially jars on the ear in its higher key but if it works one gets used to it, and it becomes a lovely dialogue due to the prominent role for bassoon as well as the oboe. Meanwhile the arrangement of Ravel’s Pavane pour une infant défunte works by underplaying the orchestral winds so that the oboe can shine more prominently. Likewise, Clair de Lune is all the more evanescent, though perhaps the orchestra is too obvious a presence here.
The less familiar works will attract some listeners, though the rewards are mixed. Françaix’s Floral Clock depicts a different plant for each hour of the day and night. The Moonflower (track 8) has a pleasant, flowing melody, but otherwise I didn’t think there was much to the suite. D’Indy’s Fantaisie sounds languid, almost oriental at time, though it has livelier, folk-influenced moments. Odermatt’s Été was written for Mayer and sounds like it might have been composed a century ago with its shimmering, impressionistic textures: listen out for its lovely extended melody about four minutes in, flowing and shapely.
Satie’s Gymnopédie flows alluringly with the distinctive sound of the cor anglais darkening the texture, but for me the loveliest item was saved to last as, in Hahn’s À Chloris,the cor anglais floats alluringly over an exquisite orchestral texture. Here, as throughout the disc, Mayer displays a miraculous seamlessness to his playing and his love for and total mastery of the long legato line is evident to anyone. Support from the Academy and the direction of Mathias Mönius are dependable without stealing the soloist’s limelight. Recorded sound is excellent too. The only duff note comes with the booklet notes, which are dreadful! Fans of the oboe will love this disc: aspects of it may be forgettable but it collects a sequence of beautiful music which should give pleasure to most.
Fans of the oboe will love this disc: aspects of it may be forgettable but it collects a sequence of beautiful music which should give pleasure to most.