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Czech Contemporary Music for Oboe
Jiří TEML (b.1935)
Concertino for Oboe and Strings, ‘Hommage à Vivaldi’ [16:09]
Jaroslav KRČEK (b.1939)
Suite for Oboe and Chamber Orchestra [11:35]
Concerto per tre [10:10]
Concertino for Oboe d’Amore and Strings [7:21]
Zdenek ŠESTÁK (b.1925)
Euterpé, Auletica for Oboe (English Horn) and Piano [11:32]
Jan MÁLEK (b.1938)
Pastorale e Danza sopra G.A.B. for Oboe and Strings [6:28]
Nikolai RIMSKY-KORSAKOV (1844-1908)
Flight of the Bumblebee (arr. Krček) [1:26]
Gabriela Krčková (oboe, English horn, oboe d’amore), Kateřina Jansová (flute), Hana Jouzová (harp), Daniel Wiesner (piano)
Musica Bohemica Praha/Jaroslav Krček
rec. Evangelical Church, Prague, 2014 (all Krček items and Flight of the Bumblebee), Church of St.Vavřinec, Prague, 2011 (Šesták), Czech Radio 1996 (Temi); 1998 (Málek)
ARCODIVA UP 0160-2 321 [65:43]

The oboe: such a plaintive, expressive instrument, so good at tugging at the heartstrings, unsurpassed at spinning a lyrical melody of a pastoral nature. Strange then that its solo repertoire, especially that with orchestra, is so limited. The oboe’s close cousin the bassoon has a far more extensive list of concertos by important composers though those thirty-plus Vivaldi works do give it a bit of a start. The oboe isn’t suited to the pyrotechnics of the clarinet or the acrobatics of the bassoon, and lacks the sheer technical fluidity of the flute. Composers of solo oboe music therefore have to seek out other less extrovert qualities.
So it is pleasing and exciting to come across a disc such as this, with its clutch of recent Czech music for oboe, most of it with orchestra. The accomplished soloist is Gabriela Krčková, whose husband, Jaroslav Krček, is not only the composer of three of the works, but also conducts the excellent chamber orchestra Musica Bohemica. All the composers found here are still alive (according to the booklet), but none is young. Annoyingly, not all the dates of composition are given; the first piece, however – Jiří Teml’s Concertino for Oboe and Strings – was, we learn, written as an entry for a composition competition in 1993. It is subtitled ‘Hommage à Vivaldi’, though, as the composer’s note acknowledges, there is no obvious reference to Vivaldi in the music’s style or substance. It does however treat the oboe very much as ‘primus inter pares’, and concentrates on lively discussion between solo and tutti, with many interesting combinations of timbre. The first movement is the most forceful, contrasting the driving rhythms of the first section with sinuously expressive writing so effective on the oboe. The second movement, Nocturno, evokes Bartók – a conscious nod, maybe, towards his famous ‘night music’ passages, with quiet trills for muted strings forming the background to a high violin melody, later doubled by the oboe. The final Danza is delightful, with, as in the other movements, really brilliant writing for the strings.
Jaroslav Krček’s first piece here – written for his 60th birthday celebrations, thus placing it in 1999 – is his Suite for Oboe and Chamber Orchestra, consisting of nine short movements. Some of these, such as the tiny Allegro second movement, have a strong folk-like feel. There are frequent cadenzas, which made me long for a soloist with a slightly stronger musical personality. Krčková is undoubtedly a fine oboist, but she doesn’t seem to have that precious ability to take ‘ownership’ of the music, as you might get from someone like Maurice Bourgue or Heinz Holliger. Perhaps it’s a daunting prospect recording all this music by your husband. Whatever the shortcomings, these miniature pieces still manage to be entertaining and enjoyable.
The Concerto per tre, which apparently dates from 1970, has no orchestra, just the three solo instruments - flute, cor anglais and harp. Its three short movements are beautifully conceived for the instruments, and have a gentle, hypnotic quality.
The oboe d’amore is an instrument much-loved by Baroque composers, notably J.S. Bach. After his era, it largely dropped out of usage, possibly being too close in sound to the cor anglais — it’s pitched in A, thus almost exactly halfway between oboe and cor. This is a strangely reticent piece, perhaps reflecting the nature of the instrument itself.
More striking is Euterpe for oboe/cor anglais and piano by the 89 year-old Zdenek Šesták. The title enshrines the name of one of the nine Muses, daughters of Zeus; Euterpe herself was the muse of music, poetry and song. ‘Auletica’ indicates a connection with reed-pipes, and the haunting fourth movement, Afrodite of Doidals, where the oboe is replaced with the cor anglais, seems the emotional and musical core of the work.
The final piece is probably the only one which truly merits the description ‘contemporary’ in terms of its stylistic language. This is Jan Málek’s brief but impressive Pastorale e Danza, written as a tribute to Gabriela Krčková, and based on notes drawn from her name - presumably her maiden-name, as they are principally G A and B.
I say ‘final’, but there is a brief but delightful “Bonus Extra”. This is the famous Flight of the Bumblebee, which I have never heard on the oboe before, and makes a suitably light-hearted ending to the disc - except perhaps for oboists, who may find themselves gasping at the way Krčková whizzes up to the final top G.
Gwyn Parry-Jones