Tuesday, February 14, 2012

In review--Solo Oboe

Céline Moinet
J.S. Bach, Berio, Britten
Harmonia Mundi

The oboe has always fascinated me.  The instrument’s timbre falls somewhere between a cornet, English horn, and flute--so mysterious and alternately melancholy. If you asked me to single out the sound of the oboe in an orchestra, there’s a good chance that I’ll mistake the oboe for an English horn.  On Céline Moinet’s recording Oboe, the musician explores diverse territory ranging from the baroque architecture of J.S. Bach and then skipping ahead several hundred years to modern composers Elliott Carter, Luciano Berio and Benjamin Britten. By bringing compositions by those composers, we might end up thinking that J.S. Bach was ahead of his time as far as polyphonies played on a single instrument.

However, the Bach pieces that Moinet chose for this recording, (both father and son, CPE Bach's work), were originally composed for transverse flute. Still that doesn’t stop Moinet’s oboe from resembling a regal cornet, even on the modern pieces (though I will admit I don’t have ears for Berio's work).  Bach’s Partita in A minor (for solo flute) and Benjamin Britten’s Six Metamorphoses after Ovid resonate with me. World’s apart and separated by 300 years, Bach’s partitas feature staccato notes resting on elongated notes briefly and then flitting off, like a baroque dancer at a ball.  Britten’s short pieces reflecting on Greek tales of transformation, do just the opposite, they feature elongated notes with rapid passages briefly appearing.  Each tableau gives an impression of the Greek legendary figure through timbre, tone, and tempo.  For instance, Phaeton is represented by rapid playful arpeggios; Pan by elongated pastoral notes, and Niobe by slow passages and silence.

Moinet ends the recording with CPE Bach’s Sonata in A minor (originally for solo flute), echoing his father’s compositions which opened the recording.  While I don’t know why Moinet chose to end the recording with early music, it works, as listeners are shuttled through a music history lesson, and all this on a solo oboe with as much personality as a Steinway grand.

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