This new recording by virtuoso oboist Emily Pailthorpe and the BBC Symphony Orchestra brings together one of the most renowned works for oboe – Strauss's Oboe Concerto – with a new work The Better Angels of Our Nature by Richard Blackford. It also includes a rare rendition of Barber's transcendental Canzonetta for oboe and strings, published after the composer's death, and chamber music by Barber and Janacek with Pailthorpe and principal soloists of the BBC SO. The BBC SO is conducted by Martyn Brabbins.
Richard Blackford is known not only for his music for theatre, film and television, but also eloquent and lyrical works for the concert hall. The Better Angels of Our Nature was commissioned by, and premiered by Emily Pailthorpe in 2012. It takes its title from an inspirational plea for reconciliation by Abraham Lincoln in his first inaugural address in 1861. It is divided into two continuous movements.
Richard Strauss’ concerto for oboe in D major is one of the last pieces he wrote, written in 1945. Approached by John de Lancie, a corporal in the US army but in civilian life a professional oboist, Strauss originally rejected the idea of a concerto for the instrument, but the idea took seed. Sadly, through a series of complications, de Lancie never premiered the work, but it has become a mainstay of the repertoire.
Two pieces beloved of wind players form the central sections of the disc: Barber’s Summer Music for quintet, and Janáček Mládí for sextet, for which Pailthorpe is joined by the principal soloists of the BBC Symphony Orchestra. Commissioned in 1953, Summer Music is a single movement, showcasing each instrument of the quintet: flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon, and French horn.
Mládí or ‘Youth’ by Janáček, written in 1924 when the composer was 70, adds a bass clarinet to the traditional wind quintet line-up in a piece which melds together reminiscences of Moravian folk-tunes with Janáček’s sensitivity to the lilt of human speech patterns.
With her unique vocal sound and compelling musicianship, oboist Emily Pailthorpe has won a large following amongst fellow musicians and concertgoers worldwide. Emily’s career was launched at the age of 17 when she became the youngest artist ever to win the Fernand Gillet International Oboe Competition. Playing the Vaughan Williams concerto, she was hailed by the judges as “the Jacqueline du Pré of the oboe”. Emily went on to make her acclaimed concerto debut in 2003, playing the Strauss Concerto with the Philharmonia Orchestra, and gave her Wigmore Hall recital debut in the same year. As part of the BBC celebrations to mark International Women’s Day 2016, Emily was invited to perform Thea Musgrave’s virtuosic Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra Helios with the BBC SO, broadcast live on BBC Radio 3.
Emily has also recorded Paul Patterson’s Phoenix concerto, which was written for her, along with the Vaughan Williams Oboe Concerto and the Howells Oboe Sonata, arr. Wallfish with the English Chamber Orchestra on Champs Hill Records.
- Sleeve Notes
Richard Strauss's six concertante works belong to either his early period – the violin concerto, Burleske for piano and orchestra and 1st Horn Concerto – or to his last years – the 2nd Horn Concerto, the Oboe Concerto and the Duet-Concertino for clarinet, bassoon and orchestra. John de Lancie, principal oboe of the Pittsburgh Orchestra and subsequently the Philadelphia Orchestra for thirty years, served as an American soldier stationed in Bavaria during the war. He recalled one of his meetings with Strauss - “I asked him if, in view of the numerous beautiful, lyric solos for oboe in almost all his works, he had ever considered writing a concerto for the instrument. Strauss replied 'No', but the idea took root and he completed his oboe concerto, one of his very last works, on 25th October, 1945. Its premiere was given in Zurich on 26th February of the following year, Marcel Saillet being accompanied by the Tonhalle Orchestra under Volkmar Andreae. The extraordinary demands made upon the oboist's breath control are epitomised by the initial entry, a phrase extending to over fifty bars in moderate tempo, with only two tiny breaks about 2/3 of the way through. The two introductory bars consist of an apparently insignificant little figure on the cellos, but Strauss resourcefully develops and extends this fragment in various ways throughout the concerto. Further themes include a melody beginning with three crotchet C's and a more angular idea introduced by the oboe and beginning with a rapid downward scale. A concise development section leads to a recapitulation in which Strauss varies the original material while also including another very long and testing phrase for the soloist. In the final bars the fidgety little cello phrase which began the work is artfully reintroduced to prepare for its renewed presence in the slow movement. This Andante begins with yet another extended oboe melody and subsequently themes from the opening movement are recalled. Finally, the soloist has a cadenza, beginning in recitative style and culminating in an upward scale which leads straight into the Allegro finale, a lively rondo with a profusion of ideas. Once more Strauss modifies earlier melodic material, most obviously including the theme which originally began with three C's. Another short cadenza leads to a coda in a flowing 6/8. In the very limited oboe concerto repertoire – also including outstanding examples by Mozart and Vaughan Williams – Strauss's late work occupies a very special place.
Samuel Barber's Canzonetta, his final composition (1979-81), was originally intended as the slow movement of a concerto for Harold Gomberg, principal oboe of the NYPO for over thirty years. Suffering from depression and alcoholism, and aware that he would not complete the projected concerto, Barber suggested the title Canzonetta for this single movement. Following the composer's clear indications in his short score, Barber's former student Charles Taylor orchestrated the work for oboe and strings. The intimacy of the Canzonetta is characteristic of Barber, but less typical is his streatment of the main melody. Barber initially presents this with purely diatonic melodic line and harmony, but subsequently intensifies and transforms it with increasing angularity and chromaticism. Harold Gomberg gave the premiere in New York on 17th December 1981, with Zubin Mehta conducting the NYPO.
Barber's wind quintet Summer Music actually originated as a septet for three woodwinds, three strings and piano, composed in response to a commission from the Detroit Chamber Music Society in 1953. In composing this piece Barber drew upon Horizon, an orchestral work he had written for a radio series. The opening of Summer Music – the original septet now adapted into a wind quintet – evokes lethargy and indolence, in spite of flourishes from the flute and clarinet. A relaxed, extended melody is introduced by the oboe, before a tempo increase brings a new mood. Staccato replaces legato and the nagging, almost omnipresent semitone figure is now almost banished. A further quickening, marked “Lively, still faster”, arrives with the reintroduction of the semitone figure on the horn, then more staccato music leading to a recall of the relaxed oboe melody. Reminiscences of the original material alternate with new sections: “Faster” – oboe melody, and “Joyous and flowing” – flute melody. The heightened restatement of the “Joyous and flowing” music is accompanied by brilliant arpeggios on flute and bassoon but, following further memories of the languorous opening, this invaluable contribution to the wind-quintet repertoire ends with a brilliant passage and a witty diminuendo. The premiere of Summer Music was given by the principal winds of the Detroit Symphony on 20th March 1956.
Janáček's infatuation with Kamila Stösslová, a married woman only half his age, inspired a late creative outpouring. Though his love remained unrequited, he was moved to compose most of his greatest works during his last twelve years. Among these major compositions are several operas, two string quartets, the Glagolitic Mass, and the orchestral works Sinfonietta and Taras Bulba. Mládí (Youth) for wind sextet also dates from this late period. Aged nearly seventy, Janáček composed Mládí in about three weeks while staying at his recently purchased cottage in his native village of Hukvaldy in Moravia - now part of the Czech Republic. He wrote to Kamila Stösslová “While here I have composed a kind of reminiscence of my youth.” Unusually the work includes bass clarinet, adding to and enriching the more traditional quintet texture. The main theme of the first movement is introduced by the oboe with a bumpy horn accompaniment - a combination of the lyrical and the gauche not uncommon in Janáček's music generally. The natural speech-rhythms of his native country strongly influenced Janáček's musical language – in his operas especially. One aspect of this linguistic/musical relationship was his instinctive ability to imagine a melody which would fit a given phrase. Apparently the opening oboe melody is his setting of the phrase “Mládí, zlaté mládí! (Youth, golden youth!). In this first, rondo-like movement the main theme predominates, but there are contrasting episodes including a 4-bar horn solo in the manner of a brief cadenza. The second movement, a theme and four rather free variations on a stately theme, incorporates incongruities and even nightmarish transformations. The first instance of grotesque humour is a descending scale-passage – initially played by the horn and marked dolcissimo – which begins mellifluously but ends incongruously with a kind of hiccup, which then becomes a target for mimicry. With such a simple stroke Janáček seems to evoke the anarchic irresponsibility of youth, the perverse delight in spoiling beauty. Although the hiccup has the last word, it is finally tamed into a gentle cadence. In the third movement, in which the flautist at times changes to piccolo, Janáček nostalgically evokes his youth as a chorister in Brno. Here he quotes from his own perky little piece of 1924, March of the Blueboys – the choristers' nickname derived from their uniform. This opening section twice alternates with a slower passage based on a tender melody. Janáček begins the final movement by recalling the opening melody of the piece in slightly distorted form, and soon he thoroughly exploits a rising figure derived from the flute part in bar 5. Subsequently the original oboe melody is quoted literally and the second theme from the opening movement is also recalled. Episodic and predominantly high-spirited, the finale reaffirms the joie-de-vivre which permeates this irrepressible masterpiece. Mládí was premiered by Brno Conservatoire professors and members of the local theatre orchestra on 21st October 1924 – a very unsatisfactory performance due to mechanical faults with oboe and clarinet.
Born in 1954, Richard Blackford studied composition with John Lambert at the Royal College of Music. His output ranges from four operas to over 200 film scores and includes music in many genres. Among his most widely performed compositions are three major choral/orchestral works – Mirror of Perfection, Voices of Exile and Not in our Time.
The Better Angels of our Nature was composed in 2013 and premiered 29th June that year at the University of Redlands, California. Emily Pailthorpe and the Redlands Symphony were conducted by Gordon Hunt. Blackford himself has written this introduction, which is prefaced with a quote from Abraham Lincoln:
“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”
“The inspirational plea for reconciliation from Abraham Lincoln's first inaugural address on March 4th 1861 was my starting point for a fifteen minute concerto for oboe and strings for the virtuoso oboist Emily Pailthorpe, to whom the work is dedicated. It is divided into two continuous movements, separated by Taps, the bugle call which is played traditionally for funerals or at sunset.
In the first movement the oboe's material is largely based on fanfare motifs, heard distantly against sustained strings, then in more dynamic form as part of an Allegro molto movement. Contrasted with it is a series of widely spaced muted string chords based around the interval of the perfect fifth, the 'mystic chords of memory'. The war-like climax leads to utter stillness as Taps is sounded, and from which emerges a gentler, lyrical oboe theme evoking compassion for victims of war and violence. Over a murmuring string texture the oboe presents the 'better angels' theme, a pianissimo, descending modal melody that expands and transforms its intervals each time it is repeated. The violins take up the theme, then the celli, till the whole ensemble sings it in affirmative forte octave unison. A contrasting rising oboe phrase based on the harmonic series leads us to a peaceful conclusion as the 'better angels' theme dies away.” (Richard Blackford 8/4/13)
- Press Reviews
"...Emily Pailthorpe plays Richard Strauss's Indian-summer Concerto with relaxed virtuosity, pleasing tone and a wide range of dynamics."
- Anthony Burton, BBC Music Magazine
"... Strauss’s long lines sing out with no hint of strain, [Pailthorpe's] tone just the right side of full-bodied. She’s superb in the Andante’s aria-like melody, sweetly accompanied by Martyn Brabbins’ BBC Symphony Orchestra."
"...Pailthorpe never hogs the limelight, James Burke’s bass clarinet adding plenty of colour."
"Buy this for the Strauss, and be beguiled by the couplings. Lucid notes and good sound – an appealing disc."
- The Arts Desk
"... Hats off to David and Mary [Bowerman] for the efforts they make to allow artists to make recordings who might not otherwise get the chance, and to allow us to hear works that might not otherwise get recorded"
- David Mellor, Classic FM
"Pailthorpe's playing throughout this disc us characterised by a full, appealing sound which modulates seamlessly between soft reticence and poised incisiveness."
"The phrasing is effortlessly eloquent and accommodates both individuality and naturalness...innate musical intelligence."
"Better Angels is a beguiling blend of melodic lyricism, textural diversity, rhythmic propulsion and formal clarity"
- Claire Seymour, MusicWeb International
"[Pailthorpe] plays with a rich, singing sound, impressive dynamic contrast and warm musical lines. Pailthorpe and her colleagues play beautifully and convincingly."
"This is a very well-balanced recording... and shows off oboist Emily Pailthorpe's nuanced playing very nicely."
"...excellent balance and coordination between soloist and orchestra... the seamless interplay between orchestral winds and soloist is icing on the cake."
- American Record Guide
"...this is an enjoyable program, played with skill, and i will certainly get a spot on my shelf... oboists will certainly want to hear this..."
"...the premiere recording of the new Richard Blackford piece... is the one which works best for me"
"...An appealing addition to the limited number of lyrical solo works for oboe and orchestra... I suspect we will hear more of this strong work [Blackford]"
"Emily Pailthorpe is a consistent pleasure."
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