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Thomas Attwood WALMISLEY (1814-1856)
Oboe sonatine No. 1 (1847) [9.13]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Pièce en forme de Habanera (1907) [4.44]
Francis POULENC (1899-1963)
Oboe Sonata, FP 185 (1962) [16.09]
Michael HEAD (1900-1976)
Three Pieces for oboe and piano (1954) [17.20]
Grigoraş DINICU (1889-1949)
Hora Staccato (1906) [2.07]
Benjamin GODARD (1849-1895)
Légende pastorale, Op.138 (1892) [10.30]
Katsuya Watanabe (oboe); Ulugek Palvanov (piano)
rec. 13-15 October 2015 Jesus Christus Kirche, Dahlem, Berlin
PROFIL PH15049 [59.30]

Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Drei Romanzen, Op. 94 [15.04]
Pierre de BRÉVILLE (1861-1949)
Sonatine pour hautbois et piano [12.27]
Charles-Édouard LEFEBVRE (1843-1917)
Deux pieces pour hautbois avec accompagnement de piano, Op. 102 [07.12]
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Sonate fur Oboe und Klavier (1938) [15.47]
Émile PALADILHE (1844-1926)
Solo pour hautbois avec accompagnement de piano [06.36]
Katsuya Watanabe (oboe); David Johnson (piano)
rec. 15-17 January 2014 Jesus Christus Kirche, Dahlem, Berlin
PROFIL PH14009 [57.31]

Marina DRANISHNIKOVA (1929-1994)
Poème fur oboe und klavier (1953) [7:15]
Fantasy on Themes from ‘Der Freischuetz’ by Carlo Maria von Weber for oboe and piano, Op. 7 (c. 1876) [14.23]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Sonata pour oboe et piano, Op. 166 (1921) [13.57]
Eugène BOZZA (1905-1991)
Fantaisie Pastorale pour hautbois et piano, Op. 37 [07.44]
Trygve MADSEN (b. 1940)
Sonata fur oboe und klavier, Op. 22 [15.32]
Katsuya Watanabe (oboe); David Johnson (piano)
rec. 30 January-1 February 2012 Jesus Christus Kirche, Dahlem, Berlin
PROFIL PH12024 [61.56]

Reviewed here are three albums released by celebrated oboist Katsuya Watanabe on the Profil label: ‘Poem’ (2012), ‘Romance’ (2014) and ‘Pastorale’ (2016). Each album is an eclectic collection of works for oboe and piano accompaniment with the respective titles indicating the theme of the music. Watanabe has actually released a number of solo albums including two earlier collections in this Profil series ‘Impression’ (2008) and ‘Summer Song’ (2010).

Oboist Watanabe was born in Japan in 1966 and studied at the Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music. Holding posts at the New Japan Philharmonic Orchestra he moved to Germany in 1992. Notably Watanabe was oboist with the renowned Orchestra of the Deutsche Oper Berlin 1997-2008. Currently Watanabe is principal oboe with Solistes Européens Luxembourg and follows a successful solo career.

The works contained on each release are well chosen, achieving a high standard with none that I would consider weak or just a mere filler. On the recently released album ‘Pastorale’ the standout work is the Poulenc Oboe Sonata from 1962; a highlight of the genre. Dedicated to the memory of Sergei Prokofiev it’s a late composition from the French composer with the last movement Déploration being the final piece he ever wrote. Watanabe surmounts the challenging technical extremes of the writing assuredly, maintaining the elegance of the score. Pleasurable too is the Parisian Godard’s substantial single movement Légende pastorale from 1892, the first of three panels from his Scènes Écossaises, Op. 38. Often inhabiting the oboe’s high register, the work contains much entrancing writing. It’s a generally plaintive score with Watanabe finding an ominous character to the contrasting agitated central section. The real discovery is from English composer Thomas Attwood Walmisley, who is mainly known as a church organist most notably at Trinity College, Cambridge. Written in 1847, Walmisley’s Oboe sonatine is the first of his pair of Sonatinas; a seasoned mainly upbeat work, ahead of its time with a distinctly romantic feel.

From the 2014 album named ‘Romance’, not surprisingly the most outstanding work is Robert Schumann’s Drei Romanzen, Op. 94; his only oboe compositions, written in 1849 during one of his most highly productive periods, although also a time when his mental health was worsening. In an admirably searching performance of these highly attractive romances, Watanabe brings out the contrasting moods very adeptly. French composers Pierre de Bréville, Charles-Édouard Lefebvre and Émile Paladilhe were all Parisian based contemporaries, associated with Paris Conservatoire. Watanabe revels in the lush late-romanticism of the Sonatine, Deux and Solo; charmingly lyrical works that coincidentally contain uplifting sections of a rather bracing character. A real find for me is Hindemith’s two-movement Sonate from 1938, one of his cycle of sonatas for solo instruments. Incidentally the work was premièred in London by eminent chamber musicians Léon Goossens (oboe) and Harriet Cohen (piano). This is an agreeably accessible work with Watanabe in complete sympathy with Hindemith’s atonal approach to composition.

Released in 2012 in the album titled ‘Poem’ I was drawn to the Saint-Saëns Sonata. An exquisite work from the year of his death aged eighty-six, Saint-Saëns’s compositional proficiency has clearly maintained its innate distinction. Particularly outstanding is the opening movement Andantino, with Watanabe accentuating its strong bucolic character as if opening a window to a picturesque country scene and letting in an invigorating breeze. With his Fantasie über Themen ausDer Freischütz’ Charles Fargues splendidly accentuates the melodies from Weber’s glorious and pivotal romantic German opera based on folk legends. My find here is Marina Dranishnikova’s Poème; an excellent score from 1953 that is said to reflect the Soviet Russian composer’s reputed love for the dedicatee, a principal oboe with the Lenningrad Philharmonic Orchestra. The testing score is played with real accomplishment by Watanabe, underscoring the predominant moods of reflection and melancholy.

With superb artistry Watanabe displays a pleasing consistency of performance across each album. This is distinguished playing of real finesse, displaying accomplished control and achieving a consistent beauty of colourful tone. Piano accompanists David Johnson and more recently Ulugek Palvanov provide sterling support throughout, adding significantly to the success of the releases.

I’m not surprised that Watanabe has chosen to record all his Profil albums at the Jesus Christus Kirche in the Dahlem distinct of Berlin as it’s a renowned and extremely popular recording venue. The recording engineers for Profil have excelled providing rewarding sound quality, satisfyingly balanced between oboe and piano. A slight grumble concerns the accompanying booklets where I require rather more detail about the composers and each work.

This is a glorious series from Watanabe who will hopefully turn his attention once again to a number of neglected English oboe sonatas. Malcolm Arnold’s Sonatine and William Alwyn’s Sonata have already been recorded on the ‘Summer Song’ and ‘Impressions’ albums and it would be pleasing to have Watanabe record the sonatas by York Bowen, Edmond Rubbra and Herbert Howells.

Michael Cookson



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