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Russian Oboe Concertos
Valery KIKTA (b. 1941)
Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra No. 1 ‘From Belgorod’.(1991) [17:00]
Andrey RUBTSOV (b. 1982)
Concerto for Oboe and String Orchestra (2003) [18:41]
Valery KIKTA
Concerto for Oboe and String Orchestra No. 3 (2001) [19:06]
Andrey ESHPAI (1925-2015)
Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra (1982) [17:34]
Maria Sournatcheva (oboe)
rec. April & October 2015
Göttinger Symphonie Orchester/Christoph-Mathias Mueller

Here are four Russian oboe concertos, written between 1982 and 2003. They are colorful, interesting, imaginatively written, and marvelously performed. You may not think you need to hear modern Russian oboe concertos, but give them a try.

The four concertos are by three Moscow-based composers who are oboe enthusiasts. Two are by Valery Kikta, a Ukrainian who was a professor at the Moscow Conservatory. Kikta is clearly fond of the oboe, for which he has composed four concertos. His no. 2 (of 4) is described as ‘monumental’, a term not often applied to oboe music, which rarely strives for the heroic. It is a pity that the work is not included in this recording.

Kikta’s Oboe Concerto no. 1 ‘from Belgorad’, is the most folkloric of these four pieces. The recording features a rewriting for modern orchestra of a concerto Kikta wrote two decades earlier for an orchestra of Russian folk instruments. Timpani beneath the bucolic oboe writing at the very beginning add a hint of menace, which fades into playfulness after some driving rhythms from Kikta’s rich array of percussion.

Kikta’s Concerto no. 3, for oboe and strings, is less dramatic. Its highlight is a slow movement (‘Song of the blissful night’) which evokes J. S. Bach, although with the slightly syrupy lushness of Bach as arranged by Leopold Stokowski.

The most neoclassical concerto is that by Andrey Rubtsov, the youngest of these Moscow composers, and the one who is himself an oboist. His soloist is accompanied by chaste strings, bringing an exceptional clarity which allows a display of the oboe’s abilities. The opening rondo is playful and sounds like fun to perform.

Andrey Eshpai is the best-known of these three composers, and his concerto has more of the late-Soviet sound, unsurprising as it won the Lenin Prize. Eshpai was a member of the Mari minority, a Finno-Ugric people who have their own republic on the Volga. His concerto contains many folk-like tunes, packaged in a sometimes jazzy, often dramatic accompaniment for his soloist. Like Kikta, he writes passages for oboe and timpani. While his elaborate orchestration has lots of brass and percussion, he deploys these instruments to highlight the oboe, not to obscure it. Eshpai also demonstrated his fondness for the oboe in a wonderful transcription for double reeds of Bach’s Goldberg Variations.

For all their diversity, these concertos are musically pretty conservative. They are not cutting-edge, nor heaven-storming, but entertaining, thoughtful, and often quite lovely. In this respect, the disc is not so different from a recording of Eighteenth Century oboe concertos by minor masters. If you read that last sentence as praise, you really should consider purchasing this CD.

Maria Kournatcheva, a young Russian oboist now based in Switzerland, is certainly up to considerable demands of this music. I found myself enjoying especially her warm lower register, but she plays evenly and with great panache throughout her instrument’s range. Christoph-Mathias Mueller and the Göttinger Symphonie Orchester are alert and sensitive in their accompaniment, never overwhelming the oboe, and generally magnifying Kournatcheva’s remarkable virtuosity

Richard Kraus

Previous review: Michael Wilkinson



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