A 20th-Century Recital
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Sonata for oboe and piano (1938) [11:26]
Benjamin BRITTEN (1913-1976)
Temporal Variations (1936) [14:18]
Antal DORÁTI (1906-1988)
Duo Concertante (1983) [13:19]
Pavel HAAS (1899-1944)
Suite for oboe and piano, Op.17 (1939) [15:02]
Paul BEN-HAIM (1897-1984)
Three Songs without Words (1952) [9:18]
Alexei Ogrintchouk (oboe)
Leonid Ogrintchouk (piano)
rec. May 2014, Sweden
BIS BIS-2023
SACD [64:47]

With the exception of the Antal Doráti Duo Concertante, this recital album features repertoire for oboe and piano more concerned with emotional depth than with virtuosic display.

Paul Hindemith wrote sonatas with piano accompaniment for all common orchestral instruments. The Sonata for Oboe and Piano was written in 1938, just before his move to Switzerland. The sonata is in two movements. The first movement is in sonata form, while the second movement consists of four alternating slow-fast sections, concluding with a fugato with complicated cross-rhythms between oboe and piano.

Benjamin Britten wrote a number of works for oboe, including the Phantasy Quartet, Two Insect Pieces for oboe and piano, Six Metamorphoses after Ovid for oboe solo, and the Temporal Variations. For some reason, Britten withdrew the Temporal Variations after the first performance in 1936, and it was only published four years after his death.

The oboe virtuoso Heinz Holliger was an inspiration for Antal Doráti, who wrote Trittico, 5 Pieces for Oboe Solo and Duo Concertante for him. Doráti was occupied mostly with conducting activities, which makes the number of works he wrote for Holliger all the more remarkable. The Duo Concertante is in two movements. The first is a slow and free section marked quasi una cadenza. The second movement is a virtuosic showpiece with fast runs and wide leaps.

Pavel Haas, whose composition teachers included Leoš Janáček, was a Czech Jew who was murdered in Auschwitz in 1944. The Suite for Oboe and Piano, Op.17, was completed in 1939, on the day that Germany declared victory over Poland.

Paul Ben-Haim, born Paul Frankenburger in Munich, left Germany for Palestine in 1933 when the Nazi came to power. The Three Songs without Words are the composer’s own transcription from the initial version for wordless soprano. The three movements are titled Arioso, Ballad and Sephardic Melody.

Alexei Ogrintchouk, born in the Soviet Union in 1978, studied at the Gnessin School of Music in Moscow and then at the Paris Conservatoire under Maurice Bourgue, Jacques Tys and Jean-Louis Capezzali. He won the first prize at the Geneva Competition in 1998, and since 2005 has been principal oboist of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra of Amsterdam. Ogrintchouk’s tone is darker and more robust than those of his teachers, due in no small part to the hard reeds he plays on. Nonetheless, he is able to produce a fine pianissimo when required. The programme on this album fits his robust style well. The opening movement of the Hindemith sonata is taken at a brisk pace. The complex cross-rhythms in the fast section of the second movement, on which many oboists on disc have stumbled, is negotiated properly by the Ogrintchouks. Alexei Ogrintchouk displays his full dynamic and tonal range in Britten’s Temporal Variations and gives a very committed account. The Doráti Duo Concertante is performed with flair and the considerable technical challenges are met with ease. The Haas Suite has all the horror and anger depicted by the composer.

Leonid Ogrintchouk is Alexei’s father, and has served as his piano accompanist on a number of albums. His contribution on this album is exemplary and he is clearly in tune with his son stylistically.

Many CD recordings of the Hindemith Oboe Sonata suffer from imprecise rhythms or inaccurate entries in the second movement. Alexei Ogrintchouk’s teacher Maurice Bourgue recorded a stunning version with his wife Colette Kling in 1968 for Harmonia Mundi, but the LP has never been re-issued on CD. Heinz Holliger recorded all the Doráti oboe works on a Philips LP, partnering the co-dedicatee András Schiff in the Duo Concertante. Unfortunately only the Trittico from that LP appears to have been reissued, as part of a 6-CD boxed set on Decca. Likewise, Holliger’s recording of the Britten Temporal Variation on an all-Britten CD on Philips, from the mid 1990’s, appears to be out of print. The Haas Suite has been recorded only relatively recently. Ogrintchouk’s recording is infinitely preferable to Katherine Needleman’s recent recording on Genuin which I reviewed. This recording of the Ben-Haim’s Songs without Words appears to be the first and only one played on oboe.

The booklet in English, German and French, has a well-written and very informative essay written by George Caird, oboist and formerly Principal of Birmingham Conservatoire.

This is a well-chosen programme performed by one of the top oboists of his generation.

Wai Kit Leung


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