oboe by Howarth www.howarth.uk.com
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Recordings to celebrate the world of the oboe

(click what you want to see)
The World of the Oboe CD cover
More mixed repertoire: Han de Vries boix CD cover The Sheba Sound CD cover Cor! CD cover

(click underlined movements to hear MP3 format sound clips)
African Blackwood tree, from which oboes are made (courtesy Howarth of London)

CD 1 (time 60:43):
Bach: Concerto for Oboe and Violin, 1st movement;
Coste: Consolazione - Romance; R Schumann: Romance no 1, Op 94;
Ravel: Prélude; Habañera; Wedgewood: Dragonfly;
Morricone: Gabriel's Oboe; Boyce: Allegro; Pasculli: Le Api;
Arlen: Somewhere over the Rainbow; Mozart: Quartet K370, 2nd movement; Jacob: Sonatina, 4th movement; Fauré: Pièce (vocalise 1914);
Delibes: The Flower Duet; Boismortier: Modèrement;
Machado: Quebra Queixo; Saint-Saë: The Swan; Harty: Chansonette; Erdinç: Dance of the Black Sea; Tchaikovsky: Eugene Onegin (opening).

CD 2 (time 61:15):
G Bush: Trio, 1st movement; Ravel: Menuet;
Beethoven, arr. Sedlak: Fidelio, Florestan's Aria;
Maconchy: Quintet (1932), 2nd movement; Dutilleux: Sonata 2nd movement; MacMillan: Intercession; C Schumann: Romance no 2, Op 22;
Britten: Pan; Richardson: Rendezvous; Sinclair: The Fly;
Basler: Vocalise-Waltz; Roxburgh: Silent Strings; Berio: Sequenza VII.

The CD booklet is extensive and in colour throughout, with a description of each track
and articles on the nature of the oboe, how a reed is made, and what happens in an oboe factory.
The music tracks are taken from the Oboe Classics catalogue and also from other CDs.

This is two CDs for the price on one.

Part of the Introduction in the CD booklet by Jeremy Polmear:

Jeremy Polmear The sound an oboe makes starts when air is blown between two blades of a strong grass to make a buzz, which turns into a squeak when squeezed with the lips. When a wooden tube is added it becomes something that can move, impress, inspire and entertain us. How this transformation occurs is a complex process involving composers, performers, reeds and instruments.

In the track notes I shall look at the contributions of individual composers and performers involved in this compilation; here, I shall talk about the more practical side - the instrument and reed. Alongside that, I shall consider what it is about this buzzing that excites our interest.

This double CD is about the modern oboe; but first, some history. A version of the oboe has probably been with us since the dawn of human consciousness, at least a million years ago, but nothing is known older than about five thousand years. The first use of the name comes in Shakespearean times; several of his stage directions include the words 'hautboys play', for example during the murder that Hamlet causes to be acted out before his father. This name is a corruption of the french word hautbois - literally, 'high wood' - but actually refers to what we now call a shawm, a mediaeval precursor to the oboe. If you look at the shawm here and at the modern Howarth oboe down the side of all Oboe Classics CDs, they look very different. Yet the shawm has all the main characteristics of an oboe. It consists of a slightly conical wooden tube, flared at the bottom, with finger holes so that the effective length of the tube can be varied to make different notes. At the top end, there are two blades cut from what looks like a piece of bamboo and is called a reed but is actually a hardy kind of grass. These are scraped thin at the tip so that when air passes between them they vibrate to make a sound. (Click on the image for more shawms.)

Another example of this phenomenon is in the Scottish bagpipe, where air is first blown into a bag, and then squeezed through a reed. The bagpipe has many excellent qualities, but because of its design can't play loudly or softly - it's a matter of loud, or nothing. To some extent the shawm had the same limitation, because the reed was usually enclosed in a protective box, with only the tip sticking out so that the player could stop the sound by touching the tip of the reed with the tongue. If played without the box it was possible to stifle the reed to make the instrument play softer, but there was little demand for this - the shawm is a festive, outdoor instrument. The development of what we would call an oboe came in the latter half of the 17th Century in France, at the court of the 'Sun King' Louis XIV, with Michael Philidor and Jean Hotteterre. They modified the dimensions of the bore to make a more 'indoor' sound, but most importantly they developed stronger reeds designed to be manipulated by the players' lips without collapsing. This meant that more variation could be made - of pitch, of timbre, and of volume.

This 'baroque oboe' with its gorgeous, mellow sound became supremely successful, and was written for by Bach, Handel and others. As the 18th century went on, it evolved into the 'classical oboe', with a slightly narrower bore and thinner wood to make a tighter, brighter sound that stood out more in an orchestra. This is the oboe of Haydn and Mozart.

Then along came Beethoven, along came the Romantic movement, along came self-expression - and also the age of mechanization. Levers were added to enable players to do more things - piecemeal at first, but later as an organized collection of keywork, until by the 1880s the French manufacturer Lorée had produced the 'Conservatoire' system (called 'Conservatory' in the US) named after the Paris Conservatoire. Lorée then worked with oboist Georges Gillet to produce an instrument with covered holes, looking much like the Howarth oboe you see here.

Track Credits and Links

The Performers:

The players are (in alphabetical order):

Marios Argiros, Mark Baigent, George Caird,
David Cowley, Nicholas Daniel, Elaine Douvas,
Paul Goodey, Léon Goossens, Deirdre Lind,
Janey Miller, Jessica Mogridge, Uchenna Ngwe,
Emily Pailthorpe, Jeremy Polmear, Christopher Redgate,
Catherine Smith, Althea Talbot-Howard, Han de Vries,
Julian West, Julia White

The tracks are taken from CDs by Oboe Classics and others.

For details of who plays what, and links to more information,
click the picture opposite to download the PDF.

photo of Peter Wiggins' reed blanks
Press Comment
"I have always had an affection for the oboe. The World of the Oboe illustrates perfectly the many qualities of this wonderfully expressive instrument. These two discs not only give you the opportunity to taste the varied repertoire from the classical and romantic periods to the abstract pieces of today, they also give you the chance to hear some of the most exciting oboists and musicians ever recorded.

"And whilst enjoying listening to the music it is a pleasure to read the CD notes which are full of interesting facts and amusing observations. My only reservation is that such a compilation is inevitably a taster - it leaves me wanting more!"
Jenny Agutter, Double Reed News (UK)

"I suppose the subtitle of this engaging two-disc set says it best: 'an introduction to the music, players, reeds and instruments'... The music, which is many and various, leads one to wonder whether we may have entered into the Worlds of the Oboe rather than just the singular.

"James MacMillan's Intercession is a seven-minute affair full of pibroch peal and constant timbral interest. Clara Schumann's Romance soon calms things. Such conjunctions are part of the appeal of the discs.

"This would make a pleasurable gift for the enquiring or potentially enquiring oboe lover." Jonathan Woolf, MusicWeb International

Listener Comment
"The CD looks and sounds wonderful... I heard good and interesting playing from all the different artists. What a nice thing it is to hear how they each have their own character and fantasy, it is really very important what you do in bringing them together."
Han de Vries, performer on CD 1 track 1

"I really like the accompanying booklet - a good accessible read whilst not being short of depth." Camilla Clark

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