Leone SINIGAGLIA (1868-1944)
Tema e 12 variazione sul Lieder ‘Heidenröslein’ di Schubert per Oboe e Pianoforte, Op. 19 [8:33]
Giovanni BOLZONI (1841-1919)
Canzone Boema [2:41] *
Minuetto [4:08] *
Fantasia [7:33] *
Giuseppe GARIBOLDI (1833-1905)
Mosaico su motivi de ‘La Traviata’ [11:00]
Gaetano DONIZETTI (1797-1848)
Sonata (Andante-Allegro) [8:28]
Giovanni SGAMBATI (1841-1914)
Melodie de Gluck [3:13]
Amilcare ZANELLA (1873-1949)
Andante e Scherzo [7:48] *
Alessandro LONGO (1864-1945)
Suite, Op. 65 (Con moto-Andante-Allegretto) [12:00] *
Nino ROTA (1911-1979)
Elegia [2:03]
Luciano Franca (oboe)
Filippo Pantieri (pianoforte storico)
rec. June 2012, Teatro Malatesta Montefiore Conca, Italy
*World Premiere Recording
TACTUS TC850002 [69:16]

My love-affair with the oboe goes back many years, to my student days at college in London as a first-study pianist. In fact the love-affair was really more with the player than perhaps the instrument itself, as it seemed that a good number of the more-attractive members of the opposite sex were oboists. By offering my services as accompanist, I not only got to meet some nice young ladies, but, by so doing became acquainted with many of the staples of the oboe and piano repertoire.

The new CD on the Italian Tactus label doesn’t, of course, contain any of the large-scale pieces we would have played then – for example the sonatas by Poulenc, Saint-Saëns and Hindemith – but it is full of attractive, tuneful music, cast rather in the easy-listening mode. Luciano Franca’s rich and fruity tone, allied to nimble articulation, is ideal for the repertoire recorded, and while the sound-stage gives real prominence to the oboe, Filippo Pantieri provides a sympathetic accompaniment throughout, as well as contributing a couple of solos of his own later. Labelled ‘pianoforte storico’ – literally ‘historic piano’ – Pantieri is playing a Bechstein Model D, which dates from 1922, and which nicely matches the range of music heard.

Marta Mancini’s adequate sleeve-notes (Italian and English) provide some biographical information about the lesser-known composers, as well as filling in some details on the music itself. One slight annoyance, though, is that nowhere in the booklet is there an actual list of works played – this is available only on the back of the jewel case. Normally this wouldn’t be too much of an inconvenience, however Mancini unusually introduces each work in alphabetical order, but based on the composer’s surname, rather than playing order.

The CD opens with twelve variations on Schubert’s Heidenröslein by composer and mountaineer Leone Sinigaglia. The theme is given out simply enough, but the first variation launches straightway into an interesting rhythmic variant, and this tends to be his modus operandi in the bulk of the work, as well as also teasing some interesting harmonic colours. He mainly keeps to the work’s original key, which he relaxes at times, while the closing ‘allegro burlesco’ rounds things off on a decidedly playful note.

Bolzoni’s Canzona Boema has a certain popular feel to it, even a slight degree of the ‘gypsy’ or ‘Bohemian’ element present, perhaps to accord with its title. The ensuing Minuetto, and Sgambati’s later Melodie de Gluck, seem rather odd bedfellows here, given that they are both pieces for piano solo. The CD’s title doesn’t preclude this option as such, but the use of hyphens in their own translation of the album’s original Italian title – ‘Oboe-and-piano Works…’ does rather suggest works for piano and oboe playing together. In a recital, it would be understandable to give any oboist the chance of a breather, such are the physical demands of the instrument. But surely there must be another eight minutes’ or so music for the two instruments combined, from the whole of the last two centuries. In the event the Minuetto has more of a polonaise-feel than a minuet, while Sgambati’s offering is merely a piano version of the D minor section of Gluck’s ‘Dance of the Blessed Spirits’ from ‘Orfeo ed Euridice’. The waltz-like main theme of the following Fantasia is slightly reminiscent of the undulating one in Liszt’s first Valse oubliée, and the work as a whole is pleasantly entertaining, with about enough to hold the listener’s attention throughout, aided by the sprightly ‘allegro brillante’ close.

Gariboldi’s Mosaico su motivi de ‘La Traviata’ is typical of many such potpourri-works compiled from well-known operas. The best tunes are there, with a few extra bits tossed in, generally to good effect. At times the recording balance favours the oboist’s decorations, rather than the piano part, as, for example, in ‘Parigi, o cara’. Harmonically the latter part of the bravura closing section also seems a little contrived – more Gariboldi than Verdi, perhaps – but, as these types of pieces go, it’s attractive enough for all its eleven minutes.

Donizetti’s two-movement Sonata is well crafted and melodic in the best Italian operatic tradition, its lyrical ternary-form Andante providing an ideal aperitif to the high-spirited opera-buffa Allegro finale, which culminates with an obligatory top F. Zanella’s Andante e Scherzo is cast in similar mould – an expressive slow movement, where Franca’s sensitive tone comes into its own, followed by another light-hearted finale, and, just for once, the final say goes to the pianist.

Longo’s three-movement Suite is the most substantial work on the CD, and the most interesting. Although he was active at a time when musical styles where changing, this quite charming work is easy on the ear, and there is more true interplay between the two instruments, which, on this occasion, the recording balance does faithfully convey.

Rota’s attractive Elegia that follows, is, on the other hand, the shortest work here, and the most recent, written in 1955. As might be expected from a composer at the time mainly involved in soundtracks for Fellini, it is expertly written, immediately appealing, and generous both in attractive harmony and fulsome melody.

Philip R Buttall

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