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Support us financially by purchasing this disc from
Tomaso ALBINONI (1671-1751)
Oboe concertos, op. 5 & 7
George Frederic HANDEL (1685-1759)
Oboe concertos 1-3
Oboe sonatas
Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
Oboe concertos
Full contents list at end of review
Sarah Francis (oboe and oboe d’amore), Graham Mayger (flute), Elizabeth Watson (viola d’amore); London Harpsichord Ensemble.
rec. St. Giles, Cripplegate, December 1988; St. Michael’s Church Highgate, January 1993; February 1994, Rosslyn Hill Unitarian Chapel, January 1992.
HERITAGE HTGCD400 [4 CDs: 270:21]

Sarah Francis’s highly acclaimed performances of the complete solo oboe concertos of Albinoni, the complete oboe concertos and sonatas of Handel and the complete concertos of Telemann are reissued here for the first time. The recordings, from the late 1980s and early 1990s, are sourced from the Unicorn label. The accompanying booklet includes a highly informative essay by 18th century music authority Nicholas Anderson. 

Having listened to the performances captured on the CDs it’s very hard to disagree with the laudatory quotations from American Record Guide, BBC Music Magazine and the Penguin Guide that are printed on the reverse of the CD box. This is oboe playing of the highest quality in terms of technical assurance and musicality. The main issue with “complete” collections such as this is that after a while you tend to suffer an overdose. It’s the sort of thing that I just dip into for a couple of concertos and then dip out again. Listening to an entire CD taxes my concentration somewhat but that is in no way a criticism of the set, merely a comment on my own listening habits. For aficionados of the baroque concerto this bargain box offers exceptional value for money.
The Albinoni concertos, from St Giles, Cripplegate in 1988, are beautifully recorded with the soloist well forward and the strings placed behind her in a warm, realistic acoustic. I’m no fan of period instrument performances so this is right up my street. The string tone is full and sweet with a subtle use of vibrato and a keen sense of rhythm. The playing is reminiscent of those brilliant Argo/St. Martins LPs of the 1970s. Oboe and orchestra play as a team especially in the faster dance movements where there is a tangible sense of vitality and interplay. Special mention must be made here of the unobtrusive contribution of Christopher Kite on harpsichord. These concertos are packed with gorgeous central slow movements and Sarah Francis plays them all very sensuously. A lovely set full of sunshine.
The Handel concertos, recorded in St. Michael’s Church, Highgate in 1994, are captured in a denser soundstage when compared to the Albinoni disc. The soloist is very much part of the orchestral texture and I would personally have preferred her to be somewhat more separated from her colleagues. There are times in the loud and more animated passages where she is in danger of being swamped. Instead of being a soloist she becomes a member of the orchestra. Putting this minor criticism to one side the performances, on modern instruments, are superb. Whereas Albinoni uses a repetitive fast-slow-fast template for his concertos, Handel is always structurally innovative with a varied use of counterpoint. Handel’s music - to these ears at any rate - strikes me as being far more rewarding and interesting to listen to for these reasons. There can be no complaints whatsoever when it comes to the sound quality of the sonatas. Balance is impeccable with a highly attractive singing oboe tone throughout and the harpsichord is set at an appropriate distance. This is another disc to marvel at.
The last two CDs are devoted to Telemann and the musical and technical standards set in the Albinoni and Handel discs are maintained. Yet again it’s very obvious from the outset that Sarah Francis loves this music. Her playing is absolutely captivating with beautiful tone and clear articulation allied to fabulous intonation and phrasing. Telemann’s music is full of melody and invention. It somehow marries the intellectual skill of Handel and the sunshine of Albinoni. As such, these two discs are actually the highlight of the collection. The recording is exemplary - clear, well balanced and sparkling. Telemann Volume 2 finishes off with a real beauty: the Triple concerto in E major for flute, oboe d’amore and viola d’amore. What a bright and breezy, captivating piece this is. Sarah Francis turns her hand to the oboe d’amore and she is admirably supported by Graham Mayger (flute) and Elizabeth Watson (viola d’amore). I defy anyone not to smile when listening to this.
In summary this is a gem of a set. Listening to it in one sitting isn’t to be advised but the four discs contain some real gems, immaculately played and spaciously recorded. If you feel down in the dumps, give this a spin.
John Whitmore 
Detailed contents list
CD 1 [73.30]
Tomaso ALBINONI (1671-1751)
Concerti (12) a 5, op.7:
Oboe Concerto in B flat major, op.7 no.3
Oboe Concerto in C major, op.7 no.12
Oboe Concerto in D major, op.7 no.6
Oboe Concerto in F major, op.7 no.9
Concerti (12) a 5, op.9
Oboe Concerto in B flat major, op.9 no.11
Oboe Concerto in C major, op.9 no.5
Oboe Concerto in D minor, op.9 no.2
Oboe Concerto in G minor, op.9 no.8
CD 2 [62.25]
George Frederic HANDEL (1685-1759)
Oboe Concerto no.1 in B flat major, HWV301
Oboe Concerto no.2 in B flat major, HWV302a
Oboe Concerto no.3 in G minor, HWV287
Oboe Sonata in B flat major, HWV357
Oboe Sonata in C minor, HWV366 op.1 no.8
Oboe Sonata in F major, HWV363a
Oboe Sonata in G minor, HWV364
Sonata in G minor for oboe, violins and continuo, HWV404
CDs 3-4 [67:49 + 66:37]
Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
Concerto for oboe d'amore in G major, TWV51:G3
Concerto for oboe, 2 violins and basso continuo, TWV51:D5
Concerto in E major for flute, oboe d'amore and viola d'amore, TWV53:E1
Concerto in E minor for oboe d'amore, strings and b.c, TWV51:e2
Oboe Concerto in C minor, TWV51:c1
Oboe Concerto in C minor, TWV51:c2
Oboe Concerto in D minor, TWV51:d1
Oboe Concerto in E flat major, TWV51:Es1
Oboe Concerto in E minor, TWV51:e1
Oboe Concerto in F minor, TWV51:f1
Oboe d'amore Concerto in A major, TWV51:A2