Jeremy Polmear suggests ways to find the right oboe CD for you
As this catalogue gets larger, and the website expounds the virtues of each CD, the question arises: which one(s) are actually going to be a pleasure to own, to be something you will want to listen to again and again, to put on your phone?
Here are some pointers that might help. Click the CD image for details and sound clips, return here via the 'back' button.
If you are a beginner player, then try Ready, Steady, Blow! This CD stems from my belief that even at the most basic technical level there is some good music around, and it is performed by people who were Graduating from Trinity College of Music at the time. The booklet has quietly inspirational stories of how they got interested in the oboe. The music is easy to buy, and there are piano-only tracks to play along with.
If you are a beginner listener, then The World of the Oboe could be for you. It's two CDs of varied music (one reviewer said it should be called the Worlds of the Oboe). The tracks come from the Oboe Classics catalogue and other sources (all referenced), so you can follow up strands that take your fancy. The booklet contains a history of the oboe and how it is made, and a background to the music and the players.
If you are looking to be entertained, the composer Jean Françaix once said that "good humour is indispensible to the well-being of humanity", and his works on Très Françaix reflect this. It's my belief that these delightful examples of 20th-Century French wind writing can promote happiness!
Looking for something more meaty? Something that goes beyond 'oboe music' to leave a lasting impression? Two CDs come to mind. Though Lovers be Lost is music from England and France written between the two World Wars, in which different composers respond to war and its uncertainties. Sorrow and Anger is here, and everything in between.
Of equal intensity, but creating a quite different world, Harrison Birtwistle's Orpheus Elegies for oboe, harp and voice relates to one of his obsessions, the Orpheus myth. Taking as his starting point the Sonnets to Orpheus by Rainer Maria Rilke, Birwistle writes a series of what he calls 'Snapshots' that, while short in duration, create a world of feeling that repays repeated listening.
What if a particular period of music appeals? Try these:
Baroque Spirit (Trio Sonatas by Telemann, Quantz and others); The Oboe in Mozart (including the Oboe Quartet and the Piano and Wind Quintet); Robert & Clara Schumann (Romances and other works); New Ground (contemporary works including Graham Fitkin, Edwin Roxburgh and Cecilia McDowall).
Or Historical performances? Here are some:
The Oboe 1903-53 (a double CD of early - some very early - performances); Rare Goossens (possibly the most famous oboist ever); The French Accent (Poulenc and others playing 20th century music); English Accents (oboists active in the 1950s, including Terence MacDonagh and Sidney Sutcliffe).
If virtuosity is your thing... then Christopher Redgate is your man:
In Pasculli Christopher plays operatic Fantasias by the 19th Century virtuoso Antonio Pasculli; and on oboe+ contemporary pieces of astonishing difficulty by his brother Roger Redgate and Michael Finnissy. Luciano Berio's Sequenza VII is the most conservative piece on the CD.
That's about half the Oboe Classics catalogue, and the other half is just as interesting. But finally, if you want a bit of everything, check out this box set from the celebrated Dutch oboist Han de Vries. The sound clips will tell you if you like his style, and the contents will show you that he can take you on what looks like a complete tour of the oboe repertoire.