|About this Recording
8.553002 - ALBINONI: Oboe Concertos, Vol. 2
Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni (1671 - 1751)
Oboe Concerti, Op. 7, Nos. 2, 3, 8 & 9, and Op. 9, No.6
The oboe, perfected in France around the middle of the seventeenth century, gained acceptance in Venice during the 1690s. The first known Venetian operas to include a part for it dated from 1692, and by 1696 at the latest it had been heard at the Basilica of San Marco, which two years later recruited its first permanent player of the oboe. Several other oboists of note established themselves in the city, and the four ospedali grandi, the charitable institutions caring for foundlings, orphans and the destitute, added the instrument to the teaching curriculum.
It was logical, given Italy's - and, indeed, Venice's - pioneering rôle in the development of the concerto, that sooner or later the first concerti with parts for oboes would be written. The big question was how, if at all, should they differ in style and form from violin concerti? For Vivaldi, as for most Italian composers, the problem was easily resolved. In his hands the oboe becomes a kind of ersatz violin. To be sure, he takes care not to exceed the normal compass of the instrument (running from the D above Middle C to the D two octaves higher), remembers to insert pauses for breathing and avoids over-abrupt changes of register, but the solo part still seems remarkably violinistic - as Vivaldi himself tacitly acknowledged when, on more than one occasion, he prescribed the violin as an alternative to the oboe.
It was left to Vivaldi's important Venetian contemporary, Tomaso Albinoni, to find another way of treating the oboe in a concerto. Apart from being a capable violinist, Albinoni was a singing teacher married to an operatic diva. His experience of writing operas and cantatas decisively affected the way in which he approached melody and instrumentation. His concerti equate the oboe not with a violin but with the human voice in an aria. Conjunct movement and small intervals are generally preferred to wide skips. In opening orchestral passages the oboe does not double the first violin (as in Vivaldi concerti) but bides its time until its solo entry or else supplies an independent line. The opening solo idea is often presented twice - the first time abortively, the second time with a normal continuation. This twofold presentation is a device borrowed straight from the operatic aria of the time.
Albinoni describes these works as concerti 'with' rather than 'for' oboe. The difference is significant. Whereas in a Vivaldi oboe concerto the prime aim is to show off the capability of the soloist, here the oboe is the partner rather than the dominator of the first violin - and even the second violin is not excluded from the discourse. The spirit of give and take that exists between the treble instruments lends these works a character that reminds one of chamber music.
Albinoni's first set of Concerti a cinque with parts for one or two oboes, published in Amsterdam as his Opus 7 in 1715, has the distinction of being the first such collection by an Italian composer ever published. The composer dedicated them to a local nobleman and amateur musician, Giovanni Donato Correggio. The works are divided into four groups, each of which begins with a concerto for strings (one of these, No.11, contains passages for a solo violin), continues with a concerto for two oboes and finishes with one for a single oboe. Whereas the concerti with one oboe are fully mature in conception, those with two oboes are more varied, as if Albinoni, in 1715, had not yet decided how to structure them. Certainly, the two-oboe works, which are all in the traditional trumpet keys of C major and D major, carry strong traces of the trumpet sonatas that Bolognese composers, in particular, had written at the end of the previous century.
The second concerto of Opus 7 is notable for its short slow movement, for strings only, which is a fine essay in chromatic harmony and quasi-vocal polyphony. No.8 has a finale in jig rhythm that, remarkably enough, is his only surviving concerto movement in Vivaldian ritornello form. The sixth concerto from Opus 9 (1722), Albinoni's sequel to Opus 7, shows how he later came to model his two-oboe concerti on those with one oboe, greatly expanding the dimensions and elaborating the form. The three concerti with single oboe (Opus 7, Nos. 3, 6 and 9) all have finales in 3/8 or 6/8 that exploit Albinoni's favourite rhythmic device of hemiola (where twice three units becomes thrice two units or the reverse).
The present recording also includes the first concerto of the set, for strings alone. This is in the style of an operatic overture (sinfonia), in which the noise and bustle of the first movement is designed to silence a restive audience. The short second movement is fused to the opening movement, again in imitation of the sinfonia genre. The recording starts with a genuine sinfonia, thematically related to the concerto Opus 7, No.4, which was taken back to Dresden c.1717 by the violinist Johann Georg Pisendel. The Saxon musicians liked to add wind parts to the orchestral works in their repertoire, as shown in the present performance. Note the typically Albinonian fugue, insistently cheerful, that ends the work.
1995 Michael Talbot
The London Virtuosi
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