Albrecht Mayer (oboe, oboe d’amore, cor anglais)
The King’s Singers
Jakub Haufa (violin); Monika Razynska (harpsichord)
Markus Becker (piano)
Sinfonia Varsovia/Albrecht Mayer
Academy of St. Martin in the Fields/Mathias Mönius
Mahler Chamber Orchestra/Claudio Abbado
New Seasons Ensemble/Albrecht Mayer
rec. 2003-2013, Warsaw/London/Berlin.
DEUTSCHE GRAMMOPHON 479 6843 [76:33]
What a piece of work is the oboe! How noble and elegant, how tender and beguiling! In tone and sentence, how expressive and admirable! In talking to your heart, how like an angel! Well, in the right hands, like those of Albrecht Mayer, the principal oboist of the Berlin Philharmonic. This disc is a showcase of his art, and he is recorded playing oboe, oboe d’amore and cor anglais. The artist himself selected favorite tracks out of several releases recorded over ten years. Most of them are transcriptions, some with key changes. There is a lot of Handel, which sets the general tone for the album, so even more modern contributions attain a certain baroque tinge. Of course, there are Clair de lune and the two Pavanes, but who can resist when they are so beautiful and so fitting for an oboe?
If I would allow myself to use the word “magical” without restrictions, I would probably use it about every track: such is the creamy silkiness of the sound, so heartfelt the intonation, so smooth the blending with the orchestra or piano. Mayer’s “unit of work” is the entire melody, and not the “stepping stones” that are the separate notes. Take, for example, Schumann’s Romance: the melody has large leaps, and usually one hears microscopic stumbles on edges of the notes – but here it is just pure, enchanting cantabile.
I like how the arrangements do not focus on just the soloist but let the ensembles/orchestras shine as well. This is important for works like Ravel’s Pavane, where the masterful orchestration is preserved and other instruments get their solo moments as well. Fauré’s Pavane is very beautiful. Claire de lune breathes the warm perfumes of the night. Handel’s arias are plaintive yet springy, with warm sincerity and aristocratic poise. Overall, the mix is well balanced in character, and the music is not all ethereal and pastoral – for example, Mozart’s concert aria is joyously mercurial (though shrill at times), and the excerpt from Bach’s Magnificat is quite mischievous.
The Humperdinck track may surprise you by introducing vocals: the King’s Singers are superb in this very Bachian arrangement, where the oboe is the only instrument woven into the a capella choir like a golden thread. The result sounds like a spacious, tranquil chorale. The slow movement from Vivaldi’s Winter is very pastoral and so the transcription fits the oboe character perfectly, maybe even too well to the point of being predictable. The song is suspended in the static golden mist. The little known canzona by the younger Marcello is a pleasant surprise; it is arranged as a trio-sonata with lute and cello. Its noble sadness is memorable. Hahn’s À Chloris, where Mayer takes the English horn, is magical (there, I said it!). The arrangement is much in the spirit of Air on G String, with a warm veil of serenity. I feel that Marcello’s Adagio comes out as quite urgent and virile, more passionate and impatient, and loses its dreaminess, which I miss. Julius Weismann’s Variation is the most modern work in this collection; it is short and mystical, resembling the slow movements of Poulenc’s woodwind sonatas. It sounds a bit out of style with the rest of the works, breaking the tone of the collection.
This compilation has enough unity and diversity to make it listenable in repeat mode. However, I should mention one oddity. During about one and a half minutes of silence after the end of Weismann’s work, within the same track, an unannounced performance of Bach’s Wachet auf suddenly begins, with singers and an ensemble There’s nothing in the booklet that prepares us for it, nor are we told who the performers are, or why is it sharing a track with the modern piece. Probably it sneaked in from the album Voices of Bach – in which case the performers are Trinity Baroque and The English Concert. This omission aside, the booklet is what Deutsche Grammophon usually gives us these days – glossy paper, photo sessions and a small essay about the works, though uncharacteristically little about Mayer himself.
The accompanying orchestras, ensembles and pianists work more as partners than as backgrounds for the soloist. The recording quality throughout is excellent; the rounded sound has a soft golden sheen. The switch between the instruments is seamless, and the choices are smart: for example, Fauré’s Pavane is played on oboe d’amore, which adds extra poignancy. On some tracks Mayer uses more than one instrument, as in Handel’s Sarabande – arranged as a trio of only an oboe, an oboe d’amore and an English horn – where he plays all three instruments.
This album cast a spell on me – but then I am not too historically minded and can tolerate (and enjoy) modern instruments in Baroque music, and even like my Baroque a bit romanticized. At times this compilation becomes too Romantic, lush and mellow, so you should decide whether you are up for it. Unless you absolutely can’t stand the sound of a solo oboe (or unless you already have all these previous releases), you should give this disc a try. You’ll hear great oboe playing in a lot of beautiful music.
George Frideric HANDEL (1685-1759)
Largo from Trio Sonata for 2 Violins and Basso Continuo in G minor, HWV 393/Op. 2 no 8 (arr. Andreas N. Tarkmann) [2:55]
Maurice RAVEL (1875-1937)
Pavane pour une infante défunte (1899, arr. Chris Hazell) [5:50]
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Romance for Oboe and Piano, Op.94 No.2 (1849) [4:38]
Gabriel FAURÉ (1845-1856)
Pavane Op.50 (1887, arr. Chris Hazell) [5:52]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Concert Aria Ma che vi fece, o stelle... Sperai vicino il lido, K 368 (1779-1780, arr. Albrecht Mayer) [7:23]
George Frideric HANDEL
Lascia ch'io pianga from Rinaldo, HWV7 (c. 1711, arr. Andreas N. Tarkmann) [4:02]
Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)
Esurientes implevit bonis from Magnificat in D major, BWV 243 (c.1728-1731, arr. Andreas N. Tarkmann) [2:49]
George Frideric HANDEL
Sarabande from Suite for Harpsichord in D minor, HWV 437 (1739, arr. Andreas N. Tarkmann) [2:40]
Claude DEBUSSY (1862-1918)
Clair de lune from Suite bergamasque (1890/1905, arr. Chris Hazell) [5:09]
George Frideric HANDEL
Will the sun forget to streak from Solomon, HWV 67 (c. 1749, arr. Andreas N. Tarkmann) [4:32]
Engelbert HUMPERDINCK (1854-1921)
Abends will ich schlafen gehn from Hänsel und Gretel (1893, arr. Joachim Schmeissner) [4:03]
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Largo from Violin Concerto in F minor, Op. 8 no 4/RV 297 L'inverno (1725, arr. Andreas N. Tarkmann) [2:05]
Benedetto MARCELLO (1686-1739)
Se morto mi brami perché non m'uccidi (arr. Andreas N. Tarkmann) [3:56]
George Frideric HANDEL
Verdi prati from Alcina, HWV 34 (1735, arr. Andreas N. Tarkmann) [4:14]
Reynaldo HAHN (1874-1947)
À Chloris (1916, arr. Chris Hazell) [4:09]
Alessandro MARCELLO (1673-1747)
Adagio from Oboe Concerto in D minor (1717) [4:07]
Julius WEISMANN (1879-1950)
Variation for Oboe and Piano, Op.39 No.4 [1:56]