‘Flights of Fancy’ is an elegant title for largely
French repertoire. The exception is Philip Gates’s Oboe
Sonata, composed in 2009, but it too shares a wistful, indeed
melancholic quality with some of the other works, that enables
it to stand beside them, whilst obviously adopting stylistically
It’s as well to start with Gates, whose music I have praised
here before. His sense of characterisation is inevitably acute,
and this sonata is no different. Shadowing it was the death
of jazz pianist Matt Ross, a friend of the composer. Its opening
movement is fluidly accomplished in sonata form with a prominent
ascending motif, and this leads to the lovely lyrical central
movement, a memorial, in effect, for Ross, that eventually resolves
on the piano. As if to banish the melancholy, the finale is
rhythmically pert, light-hearted, and well distributed melodically
between the instruments. There is a nostalgic, reflective backwards-looking
moment before the close. This is a winning work, and very well
played by its composer and Andrew Knights.
The French material begins with three Duparc mélodie
transcriptions, arranged for cor anglais and piano by Gates.
They form a warmly textured triptych, Extase being the
most famous song but Soupir perhaps exerting the most
atmosphere in its new guise. Koechlin is represented by three
pieces. Au Loin, for cor anglais and piano, is a richly
textured affair, whilst Monodie, which is for solo cor
anglais is very persuasively done, spatial separation - a more
distant balance - adding to the ambience. Le Repos de Tityre
for solo oboe d’amore is similarly heady.
Poulenc is represented by his 1962 Oboe Sonata, a very late
work. This is a sensitive performance, which catches its bittersweet
nature. The players locate the taut sense of despair in the
finale, without question. They take the central Scherzo at quite
a deliberate tempo, relating its central section to the outer
tissue of the music without making too great a jump in tempo
terms. Still, for a more visceral and volatile reading, turn
to Gareth Hulse and Ian Brown in their Nash Ensemble performance.
Finally we have some Satie, either brief character studies or,
in the case of Prelude de la Porte héroïque du
ciel embodying a more extensive and reflective depth.
This is a most enjoyable disc in which Gates’s cuckoo
sits neatly in a Gallic nest of works. Performances and recording
see also review by Rob