I wish that more record companies would dare to
mix the familiar with the not so familiar, as we find on this superb
new disc. The programme here is unusually stimulating, with its juxtaposition
of old and new. Furthermore, this CD is framed by arguably the finest
ever recorded versions of Rubbra’s magnificent Sonata and Vaughan
Williams’ Six Studies in English Folksong.
The Rubbra Oboe Sonata is unquestionably one of his finest chamber works
and is worthy to rank alongside his Second Violin Sonata. This is quite
an elusive work and can be difficult to pull off in performance. Melinda
Maxwell rather misses the mark in her rival Dutton version (Dutton CDLX
7106) and the result is disappointingly bland and uninvolving. Compare,
for example, the opening minute of her performance with the haunting,
dream-like interpretation of James Turnbull and it is a little like
turning from a monochrome sketch to viewing a fully finished watercolour.
The ebb and flow of the first movement is absolutely right in this new
version and the slow movement has tremendous nobility. The quixotic
finale is also beautifully handled by both players, with Libby Burgess
doing full justice to the taxing piano writing. I have little doubt
that this new performance will become the benchmark recording.
Edward Longstaff’s Aegeus
has great strength of purpose
and a compelling sense of atmosphere. This is powerful music which avoids
the temptation to indulge in extended playing techniques and achieves
a feeling of timelessness as a result. This seems eminently appropriate
considering the classical inspiration of the piece. It was named after
the father of the Greek hero Theseus. I would like to encounter more
of this intriguing composer’s music.
The music of Thomas Attwood Walmisley was previously unknown to me.
His Sonatina No. 1 is attractive and is given a gorgeous performance
here. The piece is most charming and occasionally sounds like Mendelssohn
and Schumann. The first movement is beautifully phrased by James Turnbull
and the following Allegro
is nicely handled. It might have been
better if the two movements had been given different track numbers,
but this is a minor quibble.
An air of mischief hangs over John Casken’s Amethyst Deceiver
for solo oboe. The title refers to a species of mushroom, which has
a particularly intense flavour. Although safe to eat, it has a strong
resemblance to another type of mushroom which is poisonous, hence the
name “deceiver”. Casken has already shown himself to be
a master at writing for oboe in his bewitching Masque
Two Horns and Strings (1982), which is, sadly, still unrecorded. This
new piece is equally well written and is a splendid example of a contemporary
showpiece employing new techniques but in ways that are always musical.
There is nothing here that would frighten away the more traditional
listener and much that would inspire them. Perhaps this exciting new
work will prompt a recording of the above-mentioned Masque
is one of Casken’s most individual and affecting scores.
for Flute, Oboe and Viola is certainly
not immediately accessible but repeated hearings reveal a work with
a distinctively subtle atmosphere. Some listeners may wonder if the
composer’s decision to maintain three different keys simultaneously
throughout becomes a touch wearisome at times - a bit like too much
blue on a painter’s canvas - but it is an intriguingly strange
work all the same. The performance is very well judged.
Michael Berkeley’s Three Moods for Unaccompanied Oboe
attractive and involving miniatures. These are relatively early pieces
and are fresh in inspiration. The performance here is beyond criticism.
Finally, we are offered the Vaughan Williams Six Studies
truly exemplary performance. Although the piece was originally conceived
for cello and piano, it now exists in a number of different versions.
The choice of cor anglais here is ideal. The work sounds better on this
instrument than on the clarinet. Emma Johnson recorded it on ASV in
a sensitive rendition, but this newcomer surpasses that fine account.
(Track 15) is particularly affecting and shows Vaughan
Williams’ ability to express a great deal in the shortest of time
periods. This new account of the Six Studies
is unlikely to be
The recorded sound is excellent throughout, offering both clarity and
warmth. The booklet notes by Malcolm MacDonald are extremely interesting
This is a splendid release.
Vaughan Williams review
Rubbra discography & review