Flights of Fancy
Henri DUPARC (1848-1933)
Extase [3:43]: Testament [3:34]: Soupir [3:56] arr. Cor anglais and piano by Philip Gates
Philip GATES (b.1963)
Oboe Sonata (c. 2009) [14:54]
Charles KOECHLIN (1867-1950)
Au Loin Op.20 (1879) [4:48]
Monodie Op.216 No.11 [3:27]
Le Repos de Tityre [3:18]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Oboe Sonata (1962) [15:17]
Erik SATIE (1866-1925)
Avant-dernières Pensées, for piano [2:38]
Prelude de la Porte héroïque du ciel [4:41]
Andrew Knights (oboe, cor anglais, oboe d’amore)
Philip Gates (piano)
rec. April 2011, St. John’s Church, New Alresford
MELODIST CD5683 [67:31]
‘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 differing means.
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 are excellent.
Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Rob Barnett
Most enjoyable … winning work and very well played.