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David Schwartz
American Record Guide, November 2011

This may be a rerelease from 1996, but if you missed it the first time around, get it now. In general, when Alex Klein’s name appears on a recording, buy it. His musicality and tone do not cease to inspire me. In fact, there are few oboists today whose expression and sound stack up to his.

Klein is both an excellent performer and teacher. His performances are saturated with his theories in practice. Like reading the development of a character in a novel, Klein’s performance clearly allows the development of the oboe’s voice in each of these beautiful Vivaldi concertos. His understanding of the music is as refined as his technique, and his style even more impressive. There is nothing about this album that will not please you. From the care and direction he gives to each note to the subtle refinement of the New Brandenburg Collegium, the sounds you hear in this set are a benchmark.

To read the complete review, please visit American Record Guide online.

Lee Passarella
Audiophile Audition, May 2011

This recording is a reissue of one that appeared originally on the Musical Heritage Society label, and it’s very welcome. Klein is a suave highly characterful soloist with a beauty of tone to match his rock-solid technique. He gets spirited assistance from the New Brandenburg Collegium under Anthony Newman’s direction. The stereo sound is big and bright, with firm bass and a well-gauged ambience. However, the soloist is just a tad forward; I’d prefer his placement further back in the mix to produce a more blended sound. But this is a small point when there are so many musical and sonic virtues here to admire.

Ken Smith
Gramophone, April 2011

Alex Klein’s oboe is placed centre stage but this is certainly no bad thing

To my ear, this reissue of former Chicago Symphony Orchestra principal oboist Alex Klein’s 1993 recording, originally on the Musical Heritage Society label, has reduced its cavernous resonance, resulting in two distinct improvements. First, the cathedral acoustic has shrunk to an intimate chamber; second, the newfound crispness in the sound makes the oboe a more clearly defined entity. Much the same can be said for Klein’s essay in the booklet, which places these works more personally and clearly in the context of their popular but rather elusive composer.

The performances, though, still betray their era. One doesn’t hear the kind of full-bodied playing that early-music stalwart Anthony Newman coaxes here from the New Brandenburg Collegium very often these days. The melody in the slow movements often soars, fast movements may barrel forth briskly, but rarely does an Allegro ever groove like a dance or a Largo leave room for reflection.

This could prove awkward, given the nature of programme—a generous 75 minutes where pieces average about 10 minutes in length, each in a slow-fast-slow structure. Individual works often do blend together but Klein’s playing has such strong presence that it rarely becomes a problem.

In fact, it’s possible to listen to this recording repeatedly and rarely take your ears away from Klein, who dispenses melodies with musical charm and technical requirements with effortless grace. Vivaldi, a violinist and prolific composer for that instrument, often seems to have forgotten that some soloists need to breathe; Klein can make a listener today forget that, too.

Paul Turok
Turok’s Choice, April 2011

Alex Klein, former solo oboist of the Chicago Symphony, plays eight concertos by Vivaldi (7003). The accompaniments are by the New Brandenberg Ensemble led by Anthony Newman, and are obviously on period instruments. Klein plays on a modern oboe and the clash between playing styles occasionally intrudes. Nonetheless, a lovely disc. Klein brings a certain life to this music that seems cut from a single sheet.

Robert Hugill
MusicWeb International, March 2011

Vivaldi wrote 17 complete concertos for oboe and strings. These are highly demanding and the oboe repertory would not use such techniques again for 100 years. We don’t really know who they were written for. It is unlikely that the Venetian oboe virtuosos Albinoni and Marcello played them, as we would then have expected to find similar demanding playing techniques in their own concertos. The works are simply far more virtuosic and difficult than Albinoni’s famous concerto.

So it would seem that Vivaldi did write them for his pupils at La Pietà. In his CD booklet note, oboist Alex Klein suggests that each concerto has a distinctive didactic point; each concerto having at least one item of peculiarity to distinguish it from its companions. So presumably Vivaldi was writing the pieces to encourage and train a particularly good team of oboists—his catalogue includes three concertos for two oboes.

On this disc we have eight concertos played by Alex Klein who was principal oboist with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra from 1995 to 2004. Klein plays a contemporary oboe and is accompanied by the modern instrument group, the New Brandenburg Collegium, conducted by the baroque specialist Anthony Newman. The disc was recorded in 1993 and originally issued in 1995 but does not seem to have made it into the main review journals at the time.

The big selling point of the disc is Klein’s wonderful oboe sound: rich, luxuriant with great technical facility, no baroque gurgling here. Speeds are brisk, but never rushed and Klein’s playing is poised. He has complete control in the fast passages. The slower movements are full of beautifully spun lines. This is highly expressive playing; made even more so by the fine depth of sound that he brings to the solo line. If we have to have baroque music played on modern instruments then it should be like this.

The New Brandenburg Collegium sound to be a relatively small group and they provide crisply articulated accompaniments, with plenty of off-string bowing and a nice bounce. They manage to make their playing style seem natural, and not an artificial construct trying to mimic baroque techniques. The results are highly seductive and I cannot praise the disc too highly. Newman directs with brisk confidence.

If you enjoy baroque music played with the best contemporary techniques on modern instruments then this disc is for you. And if you generally don’t like modern instrument performances, then do try this one as the player’s technique and sound are so entrancing. Alex Klein’s beautifully toned account of the virtuosic solo parts contributes to a highly seductive whole.

George Chien
Fanfare, March 2011

Vivaldi’s oboe concertos have not lacked worthy advocates: Holliger (mostly on LPs), Indermühle, Glaetzner, and Schilli have recorded comprehensive surveys—all, incidentally, on modern instruments. More selective collections from Lencsés and Bernardini come to mind as well. Now add to the list Alex Klein, formerly the principal oboist of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra under Daniel Barenboim. Klein dedicates these performances to Vivaldi’s unnamed students at the Ospedale who first played these concertos, which demanded far greater technical skills than the contemporaneous concertos of Albinoni and Marcello. The inescapable conclusion, he suggests, is that the Ospedale’s girls must have attained a greater proficiency than male professionals were to attain for another century. What he neglects to mention is that the girls must have played these demanding pieces with two-keyed Baroque oboes. What does the relative paucity of period-instrument recordings of Vivaldi’s oboe concertos tell us?

Klein, of course, plays a modern instrument, but his bravura readings of the fast movements, especially, leave no doubt about his skill level. Flawlessly articulated and ornamented, they are breathtaking in their daredevil virtuosity. The slow movements are, if anything, even more imaginative and individual. It adds up to an edge-of-the-seat experience without a dull moment—in a word, sensational. Highly recommended to anyone with an interest in Vivaldi, the oboe, or just plain superb music-making.

Karen Ages
The WholeNote, January 2011

One of the most prolific composers of his time, Antonio Vivaldi (1675–1741) wrote a total of 14 concerti for oboe, plus an additional three for two oboes. This sampling of eight of them, from one of the world’s finest oboists, is a recent re-release of material originally recorded in 1993. Alex Klein is probably best known as a former principal oboist of the Chicago Symphony, a position he held from 1995 to 2004, when he left the job due to focal dystonia, a neurological condition affecting the muscles in some of his fingers. (He has since recovered, and I had the pleasure of hearing him perform live in Kitchener a couple of years ago).

In addition to composing, Vivaldi also taught music at the Ospedale della Pietá, an orphanage for girls in Venice. In the insightful liner notes with this recording, Klein suggests that these works were perhaps written for these girls, with their particular talents and personalities in mind. Given the technical challenges of these concerti and the limitations of the oboe of the time, if this is true, these girls must have been true prodigies! Speculation aside, this recording presents these works in their best light, played here by a true virtuoso. Klein’s technical mastery of the instrument is staggering—even the most virtuosic passages are executed with flawless precision, giving an impression of total ease; and embedded within the most technically demanding sections, Klein manages a sensitivity and subtlety of expression that only a true master can convey. This recording deserves undivided listening attention to fully appreciate the complexity and nuance of both the composer’s work and this first class performance.

WRUV Reviews, January 2011

Antonio Vivaldi (1675–1741) taught music at a girls’ orphanage in Venice. These oboe concertos are considered to be technically difficult, (compared to the compositions of Albinoni and Marcello) so one asks, were these unknown girls so talented that they could perform these for their teacher? Play all!

Elliot Mandel
Chicago Classical Music, December 2010

Alex Klein dedicates his album of Vivaldi oboe concertos to those “long-forgotten” masters of the instrument from the composer’s day, “some of the greatest oboe virtuosos ever to walk the earth.” Lucky for us modern-day listeners, we have Klein’s stellar recording to transport our imaginations back to Baroque Venice. The eight concertos contain everything Vivaldi lovers love about Vivaldi: dancing syncopation, airy adagios, and perfectly placed ornamentation. The concertos flow freely through Klein’s oboe, every trill and grace note glistening with clarity as the soloist savors rapid-fire runs of sixteenth and thirty-second notes; his slow movements float above the bass continuo without losing vivacity. Far from the plodding Four Seasons of old recordings and TV commercials, Klein’s Vivaldi brims with life; casual listeners and Baroque enthusiasts alike will want to turn up the volume.

Kevin Sutton
MusicWeb International, December 2010

Antonio Vivaldi was once famously derided by Igor Stravinsky for having written one concerto which he then copied five hundred times. One listen to these elegant and technically daunting oboe concertos, some of the most demanding virtuoso pieces of their time, will quickly put Stravinsky’s arrogant comment to bed.

Precious little is known about Vivaldi’s life. We know that he was the music teacher at the Ospedale della Pieta in Venice, a publicly-funded institution for orphaned or abandoned girls. We know that he was a priest and that he was one of the most prolific and, as these works prove, innovative composers of his day. He was a beloved teacher and it is assumed that the majority of his instrumental works were written for the girls in his care. That he created such abundant and original material, music which challenges modern musicians even after three hundred years, is testimony to the abilities of Vivaldi as a teacher and to the talent of his students. There was no other composer writing music like this for the oboe in his day. Even Tomaso Albinoni, the most famous oboist in Venice, did not compose concertos of this scope.

Alex Klein, playing on a modern oboe with a modern string band to accompany him, brings these works to life with great elegance and panache. It is often said that the oboe is the closest instrument to the human voice. Klein not only understands brilliant virtuosity, but he is quite capable of singing with his instrument. His deft handling of the many blazingly fast passages in these works is astounding not only for the accuracy of his playing, but also for the apparent ease with which he brings them off. In the slow movements, and they are all achingly gorgeous, Mr Klein plays with beautifully arched phrases and a sweetness of tone that would rival the singing of the late-lamented Dame Joan Sutherland.

Anthony Newman, long a big name in Baroque music, leads the New Brandenburg Collegium with an understated elegance that is the perfect accompaniment for these flashy displays. The strings are warm and immaculately in tune. Mr Newman’s harpsichord provides a solid foundation without ever sounding too busy. Recorded sound is balanced and just reverberant enough to give us warmth without blur.

At seventy-five minutes, this is a generous program, and one worth many a repeated listen. Originally issued on the Musical Heritage Label in 1995, it is a welcome addition to the Cedille catalogue.

Phil Muse
Audio Video Club of Atlanta, December 2010

This thrilling recording by oboist Alex Klein and the New Bach Collegium under Anthony Newman of eight oboe concertos by Antonio Vivaldi has seen the light of day before. Recorded in September 1993 at the Performing Arts Center, SUNY Purchase by producer/engineer Gregory K. Squires, it was previously released by the Musical Heritage Society. It still sounds freshly minted in its reincarnation on Cedille Records.

Not the least reason for this is the utterly scintillating performances. Klein truly understands baroque cantilena, and he can match the ensemble step for step in the fast movements. That’s fortunate, because Newman’s tempi are really bracing in that he takes the quick tempi Allegro non Molto, and Allegro Molto as even quicker, Allegro Molto and Presto, respectively. The faster tempi inspire more virtuosic playing from Klein, who can also bear down with impressive control and precision in the Allegro Giusto opening movement of the Concerto in F Major, F.VII, No. 2.

As Vivaldi taught at the Ospedale della Pietá, a charitable institution for foundling girls in Venice, the supposition has arisen that the soloists in his concerti were young students of his, a view that Klein shares in his program notes. From the evidence of what I hear, I’d say that these very demanding oboe parts were probably performed by an adult virtuoso, a real 18th century Alex Klein. For one thing, the oboe would have been considered an indelicate instrument for a young girl to play, by the polite standards of the day. Also, the sensuous nature of the slow movements would have made these concertos inadvisable. The yearning mood, giving way to resignation against a backdrop of noble grandeur, in the Larghetto of the Concerto in A Minor, F. VII, No. 5, was one thing, but the embellishments in the Larghetto of the C Major Concerto, F. VII, No. 11 would have been considered positively inflammable. My guess is that these concerti were performed as entr’actes during Vivaldi’s operas, for which their sensual lyricism would have made them ideal.

James Manheim, October 2010

Originally recorded in 1993, this set of Vivaldi oboe concertos appeared on the old Musical Heritage label and has both virtues and problems that were common in its catalog. Amateurish sound is among the latter, and so is the rather faceless ensemble accompaniment by the obscure New Brandenburg Collegium. This reissue by the Chicago-based Cedille label, apparently the result of oboist Alex Klein’s long residence in the Windy City, doesn’t do the sound any favors, but there are plenty of reasons to pick the album up on this go-round. Primary among them is Klein’s playing. In his own notes, Klein points out that these concertos contain technical difficulties that exceed anything in the works of Albinoni, known as a virtuoso oboist, or Alessandro Marcello; they are perhaps the most challenging works for a wind instrument in the 18th century, and Klein plays them for everything they’re worth. These are not fully idiomatic performances, but they capture the full virtuoso aspect of the music with sweeping lines and pushed tempos that put one in mind of the over-the-top violin concertos of the period by the likes of Francesco Maria Veracini. He’s backed by conductor (and presumably harpsichordist, although the packaging is silent on this matter) Anthony Newman, whose booming sound has fallen somewhat out of fashion but happens to fit this particular performance beautifully. There are a few other good recordings of Vivaldi’s oboe concertos, but for students of the modern oboe who want to hear a master bring the music to life, this may be the one of choice.

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