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Nancy Ambrose King plays Oboe Concertos
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)

Oboe Concerto in C K314 (1777)
Eugene GOOSSENS (1893-1962)

Oboe Concerto in One Movement (1927)
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)

Concerto for Oboe and Strings in A minor (1944)
Bohuslav MARTINŮ (1890-1959)

Concerto for Oboe and Small Orchestra (1955)
Nancy Ambrose King (oboe)
Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra

Jeremy Swerling
Recorded Vitkovice Dům Kulture, Ostrava, September 2000 and January 2002

CALA CACD 1035 [68.66]


To the canonical Mozart Concerto Cala have constructed an Anglo-Czech core that works rather well. It’s true that the Vaughan Williams Concerto has received quite a deal of discographic exposure over the last decade or so but the Goossens hasn’t (though there’s a coupling of the two on ASV with Ruth Bolister and the Elgar Chamber Orchestra) and despite the editing and advocacy of the great Czech player Jiři Tancibudek neither has the Martinů, other than a smattering of discings over the years. So a worthwhile project then, played by the American oboist Nancy Ambrose King with the Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra under her compatriot, conductor Jeremy Swerling. The recording, appropriately, was made in the orchestra’s home, Ostrava.

The Mozart is attractive though not ideal. The oboe is rather too prominent in the balance and some orchestral detail is obscured and so a slightly heavy-ish feeling is engendered which probably doesn’t accurately reflect the performance. Things improve with the Goossens, a work of the utmost concision and one full of rhapsodic arabesques. Written for the composer’s brother Leon it’s cast in a single movement and Eugene cleverly embodied his brother’s virtuosic – oboistically pyrotechnic – warm-up exercises in the Concerto’s cadenza (where the oboe is accompanied by an exotic orchestral tam-tam). For all its avowed rhapsody it’s a work of twelve minutes in length and needs to be kept tightly cornered. Tonally Nancy Ambrose King is less reedy than Goossens in his classic recording – with a rounder, almost clarinet-like tone. In the orchestra the clarinet and violin solos are much more part of a flatter perspective in Ostrava than they were in London when they leapt with charismatic audacity and immediacy from the grooves. However this is a good performance, accomplished and controlled, if less rhythmically acute and certainly less romanticised in profile than Goossens’ own.

Vaughan Williams’ Concerto is well represented in the catalogue but there’s always a place for another recording of yet another work dedicated to Leon Goossens, who premiered it in Liverpool in 1944. King is decidedly airier than the dedicatee, more obviously innocent and freshly pastoral. Things are rather light in the orchestral bases and they are not as securely anchored as perhaps they might be (Susskind certainly tied them quite heavily in his Goossens recording) but there’s a fine reflective rallentando later in the first movement – elastic, pensive and slow. The Minuet and Musette second movement is quite patrician and elegant; some might miss the slyly pawky humour engendered by the dedicatee though the mercurial finale is fleet and fluent and explores earlier themes with distinction.

Martinů’s 1955 Concerto was written whilst the composer was staying in the south of France and was premiered by Tancibudek in Sydney the following year. For this recording the cadenza that the soloist sent to the composer (and which was lost in transit) has been reinstated. Martinů’s beloved continuo piano makes an appearance here – well caught in the recording, neither too prominent nor too timidly recessed – and the orchestra responds to the rhythmic flair of the writing with practised understanding. Even though there are no oboes in the chamber orchestra the texture is still aerated and light. The grave cellistic orchestral tone of the second movement leads on to the upsurge of the Julietta Theme and a feeling of intense tranquillity, a feeling only deepened by the burnish of the almost-Brahmsian horn writing. The oboe flutters meanwhile over the haze of string writing and the piano’s insinuating chording. The splendid finale is full of boldness and drive, an animation reflected in the soloist’s eventful drive. As noted before Nimbus put out a version with John Anderson and there is Krejči on Supraphon.

Otherwise this is an attractive quartet of oboe concertos in well-played performances. The acoustic properties of the recording militate against a very strong recommendation and King is certainly not quite as alluring or convincing an interpreter as Goossens. The repertoire and performances are however of serious interest to many and more than welcome.

Jonathan Woolf

see also review by Rob Barnett when this disc was selected as one of the RECORDINGS OF THE MONTH for March

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