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Support us financially by purchasing this disc from
Heinz Holliger Edition
see end of review for details
rec. various locations, 1966-1991
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 94054 [10 CDs: 557:32]

Heinz Holliger has been prodigiously active as a musician. For example there is his work for contemporary music both as director/performer and as composer (both ECM and DG) as well as his inspired advocacy for the orchestral Charles Koechlin on Hänssler. That's not really touched on in this major set although there is an approach towards that aspect in CD10. The main and smiling burden of this set comprises some 45 works - mostly oboe concertos - from the baroque to the early 1800s. Those nine CDs cover a lot of ground though some are very sparsely packed in terms of playing time. What we have here are 10 CDs - some lightly filled as if they were LPs - harvested from Holliger's Decca-Universal days stretching between the 1960s and the early 1990s.
Here are just a few impressions as I sampled my way though this set.
Good surgingly forward and frontally placed muscular sound dominates. There’s a fearlessly ripe and romantic approach in the Vivaldi works and elsewhere. These readings rejoice in vitality and buoyancy. The Haydn of the later symphonies sparkles through his concerto but there are also Mozartean presentiments. The Benjamin-Cimarosa plays to Holliger's romantic strengths - a lovely work, never mind its inauthentic family tree. The Donizetti Concertino is gently and almost meekly tuneful and Holliger enters fully into the spirit of this winsome little thing. Shame that the track readout gives the composer's name as Geatano rather than Gaetano. Still, it's a new one after years of Guilini for Giulini and Honneger for Honegger. In much the same way as the Concertino we next are treated to the caramel serendipity of the Andante Sostenuto for oboe and harp, the latter played by the composer's sister, Ursula. These two works should put to calmness even the most troubled of minds.
CDs 7 and 8 present Holliger's concertante Mozart: a sprightly and smiling but unhurried Oboe Quartet, the unusual and grace-rich Adagio K589a for cor anglais and string trio, the big band sounding K251 ‘Nannerl Septet’ which finds intimacy and introspection only in the Andantino, a not ideally light-toed K297b Sinfonia Concertante and a joyous Oboe Concerto K314.
CD 9 is packed close to technical capacity; certainly generous in this company. The little Bellini Oboe Concerto is playful but sounds rather overstuffed and Beethovenian so far as the orchestral role is concerned. Molique's Concertino wants to come out to play but clearly it set sets out to present a soul that also knows sorrow. Moscheles' Concertante for flute and oboe is a fantastic little piece with a lightness of demeanour that moves between Weber and Mozart. The Julius Rietz Konzertstück is a flighty little piece which surprisingly reminded me of the lighter Tchaikovsky. The Fiala Cor Anglais Concerto is in three movements with not merely the harpsichord continuo signalling a work of the eighteenth century. It’s pleasing and unassuming stuff. Back to the oboe for the tripartite Hummel - an amiable Mozartean piece complete with harpsichord continuo.
The last disc stands out in this company as the sole representative of Holliger's recorded 20th century work. The Trois Danses were written for Heinz and Ursula in 1970. They have their origins in Spanish forms: Seguiriya, Soledad, Rumba. The music carries the subduing and dignified DNA typical of Frank Martin. He only really let's go in the chattering Rumba but even that is shot through with shadows. The Petite Complainte is extracted from an orchestral ballet score only recently revived in full by Claves - Aschenbrödel from 1942. It depicts Cinderella alone, left at home by her step-sisters. It's earlyish Martin and emits a Ravelian Pavane echo. The Pièce Brève was lifted from Martin's Le Mystère de la Nativité. It starts as the work of an introspect but soon skips into playful animation.
The Honegger Concerto da Camera is for flute, cor anglais and strings. It dates from 1948 but defeats many of the stultifying neo-classical clichés. It's a work of evident sincerity and strong accomplishment. The Andante is deeply impressive - an exercise in sustained atmosphere. The outer movements are nicely playful, calculated but for me carry too much of an echo of the heartless Barber Capricorn Concerto - and I am a great admirer of Barber. Then come two very brief Honegger pieces: the curvaceously serene Petite Suite for flute, cor anglais and piano and the nervy and fragmentary Antigone for oboe, cor anglais and harp.
The Martinů work is a late production and an assertively mature one. This is full of his delectable hallmarks: joyous effervescence in the first movement and finale in the manner of the Fourth Symphony. It’s also redolent of another composer at times: de Falla. The middle Poco andante is both melancholic and magical.
The familiar Brilliant Classics formula is engaged again. Attractive low price, smart card wallet, very decent booklet with English-only essays by Ates Orga (the music) and Susan Wynne Roberts (Holliger), each disc in its own uniform card sleeve with tracklist and discographical details on reverse of each card.
At this modest outlay it is a compelling way of acquiring knowledge and delight in some of the many dimensions of Holliger's musicianship.
Rob Barnett

Previous review: John Sheppard

Oboe Concertos CD 1 [58:54]: Vivaldi, CD 2 [46:11]: Telemann, CDs 3-5 [48:24 & 45:36 & 69:21]: Albinoni CD 6 [49:15]: Haydn, Benjamin/Cimarosa, Donizetti
CD 7/8 [50:48 & 48:25]: Mozart: Oboe Quartet, Adagio K580a; Divertimento No. 11 K251; Sinfonia Concertante K297b: Oboe Concerto K314
CD 9 [76:17]: Bellini, Molique, Moscheles, Rietz, Fiala, Hummel
CD 10 [64:21]: Martin: Trois Danses, Petite complainte, Piece Breve; Honegger: Concerto da Camera, Petite suite, Antigone; Martinů: Oboe Concerto
Heinz Holliger (oboe and cor anglais)
Hermann Baumann (horn), Maurice Bourgue (oboe), John Constable (piano), Maria Teresa Garatti (harpsichord), Ursula Holliger (harp), Aurèle Nicolet (flute), Klaus Thunemann (bassoon), Michel Gasciarino (horn II), Henk Guldemond (double bass)
I Musici; Academy of St Martin in the Fields/IonaBrown, Sir Neville Marriner; Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra/David Zinman; Orlando Quartet; English Chamber Orchestra/Raymond Leppard; Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra/Eliahu Inbal