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8.553991 - OBOE (THE ART OF THE) - Famous Oboe Concertos (Camden)
The Art of the Oboe
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 (1671-1751), 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.
The Op. 9 concerti are subdivided into four groups, each of which begins with a concerto for solo violin (here the oboe is silent), continues with a concerto for one oboe and finishes with one for two oboes. No. 5, in C major, is a typical specimen of the composer's late style. The orchestral texture is in places highly contrapuntal, but Albinoni never sacrifices tunefulness to a show of learning. Arthur Hutchings, his greatest advocate among British musicologists, aptly describes the finale as 'conveying the allure of the dance without suggesting the street or barnyard'.
The key of No. 12 in C major conforms to a familiar stereotype, being triumphant with a touch of pomposity. Luckily, the slow movements, which in every case are in a different key, provide the necessary contrast and give each work a well-rounded character.
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 finales of both the fifth and the eleventh concerto show this quality very clearly, even if the slow movements adopt a more intimate tone. But the most blatant 'fanfare' of all comes in the first movement of the final concerto in Opus 9, Albinoni's sequel to Opus 7 published in 1722. The dreamy, elegiac Adagio in B minor that forms the heart of this concerto is one of the finest specimens of its type.
The single-oboe concerti in Opus 7, No. 12 has finale 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). Their outer movements are spacious, always presenting the main oboe theme twice in succession on its initial appearance.
George Frideric Handel was born in Halle in 1685, the son of a well established barber-surgeon by his second wife. After matriculation in 1702 at Halle University and a brief period as organist at the Calvinist Church in the city, he moved to Hamburg in order to further a career in music, on which he was now decided. Employment at the opera, at first as a violinist and then as harpsichordist and composer was followed, in 1706, by travel to Italy, the source of the form his music had taken. Here, in Florence, Venice and Rome he made a name for himself, writing music in a number of genres, church music, opera, Italian oratorio, cantatas and instrumental works, while, in a keyboard contest with his contemporary Domenico Scarlatti, he was declared the better organist, with Scarlatti allowed to be a better harpsichordist.
A meeting in Venice with members of the court of the Elector of Hanover led to Handel's appointment in 1710 as Kapellmeister to the Elector, while contact with the English ambassador was presumably instrumental in an immediate invitation to London for the newly established Italian opera. His return to Hanover the following year, after a short stay in Düsseldorf at the court of the Elector Palatine, lasted for some fifteen months, before a definitive return to London, where he now settled, occupied very largely with the Italian opera. It was when the commercial success of the opera began to decline, particularly with the establishment of two rival houses, that Handel turned his attention to a new form, English oratorio. This had an obvious appeal to a Protestant audience, avoiding, as it did, the problems of performance in a foreign language and the incongruities of plot that had become an inevitable concomitant of Italian opera seria. His last opera, Deidamia, was staged in London in 1741 and his last English oratorio, The Triumph of Time and Truth, an adaptation of a work he had written in Rome fifty years before, was given at Covent Garden in 1757 and 1758. Handel died in 1759, but his musical influence continued to dominate popular taste, doing much to eclipse the work of native composers.
As a practical musician, Handel borrowed extensively from his own earlier compositions and, as need arose, from the work of others, following the standard practice of the time. His three Oboe Concerti have been variously designated. The third of the series, the Concerto in G minor was first published, it seems, in Leipzig in 1863, when it was attributed to Handel and described as a work of 1703, although no other source is now known. In four movements, the concerto opens with a slow movement of characteristically dotted rhythm, a touch of that French style that the aging Corelli, working with Handel in Rome, had claimed to be beyond his comprehension.
The so-called Idomeneus-Concerto takes its name from the accident that it was written to provide additional music for a staging in 1806 at the Royal National Theatre in Berlin of Mozart's opera Idomeneo, Rè di Creta. For the occasion there were inserted numbers by Paer, Bernhard Anselm Weber and Vincenzo Righini, the last the Kapellmeister of the Berlin theatre since 1793. The Berlin Italian opera was closed in 1806 as a result of the war, but opened again, under Righini, in 1811. Righini's concerto was added to the first movement chorus of Idomeneo, Godiam la pace, a very relevant sentiment in the prevailing circumstances. The work has survived in a Berlin copy of the performing score of Idomeneo. The soloist in the little concerto in Berlin was the oboist of the Berlin Royal Orchestra, Friedrich Westenholz, whose playing was much admired.
Arcangelo Corelli, the violinist-composer, more than any other musician of his time, established the form of the Baroque concerto grosso, solo violin sonata and trio sonata, a model for later composers. The present work, arranged by Sir John Barbirolli, is in the form of a concerto da camera, a set of dance movements, preceded by a Preludio. The concerto ends with a final Giga.
Domenico Cimarosa, born in 1749, enjoyed a contemporary reputation particularly in the field of Italian comic opera. In 1942 the Australian-born composer Arthur Benjamin was able to draw on Cimarosa's keyboard sonatas to provide an attractive oboe concerto, a work that broadly follows late Baroque rather than classical practice, although Cimarosa himself was at the height of his reputation towards the end of the eighteenth century. A moving Introduzione leads to a sprightly Allegro and a Siciliana, the gentle Baroque pastoral dance, as a slow movement. The final Allegro giusto makes a cheerful conclusion.
Vincenzo Bellini is better known as a composer of operas than of instrumental works. He won his first significant operatic success in 1827 with his third opera, Il pirata. Seven more operas were to follow before his death in Paris in 1835 at the age of 33. His delightful Oboe Concerto in E flat major was written, as were his other orchestral works, before 1825, while he was still a student at the Naples Conservatory. The solo instrument enters after the shortest of dramatic introductions with a melody of operatic suggestion, a foretaste of Bellini's later lyrical achievement. The aria leads directly to a lively conclusion, dominated by its lively principal theme, which frames a series of contrasting episodes.
The Air and Rondo are arranged for oboe by the English oboist Evelyn Rothwell, and orchestrated by Anthony Camden. The Air uses the descending arpeggio figure, common, in one form or another, in Handel's instrumental music. It is followed by a lively Rondo, in which the principal theme frames contrasting episodes.
The Suite in G minor, attributed to Handel, has no certain source in its present form, derived, as it is, from an anonymous manuscript in the library of the Fürstenberg family and here adapted by Anthony Camden. A solemn and very Handelian French Overture, framing the traditional livelier dance section, leads to a Gavotte and a pair of Bourrées played in alternation. A slow Sarabande offers the chance of a fine solo oboe aria and this is followed by a contrasting Rigaudon. The Passacaille follows the traditional Baroque dance-variation form and the Suite ends with a rapid Passepied.
City of London Sinfonia
The London Virtuosi
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