Released today, May 17, nearly three years following the sessions, Albrecht Mayer’s Longing for Paradise recital opens with the wistful (Wand of Youth-like) Soliloquy of Edward Elgar, the only surviving movement of an intended bigger work for oboe and orchestra, the whole left as fragments, as arranged (maybe rescued is the better word) in 1967 with skill and taste by Gordon Jacob.
Immediately evident are Mayer’s consummate artistry, the excellence of the Bambergers’ response to Jakub Hrůša’s collaborative conducting, and that the recording is lucid and naturally balanced.
These qualities are evident throughout, and serve especially well Richard Strauss’s autumnal Oboe Concerto, Mayer (principal oboist of the Berliner Philharmoniker, and a member since 1992) poised and communicative, roulades of notes always shapely and eloquent, and how detailed, buoyant and poetic the orchestra is. Frankly, I have not appreciated this work to such an extent until now, one moment a tender lullaby, dancing gracefully the next.
Ravel wrote Le tombeau de Couperin as a Baroque-influenced tribute to friends lost during World War One – first as a six-movement work for piano and then he orchestrated four of them, tending to highlight the oboe in his scoring. Joachim Schmeißer has gone further by making the oboe a solo instrument and adding his arrangement of the slow ‘Fugue’ as the pivot, here coming across as appropriately regretful: a formal title yielding much poignancy. One may have reservations about the exercise, though. Whether Schmeißer has gone back to the piano publication or amended Ravel’s scoring I am not sure: there are many similarities with the latter as well as some departures from the composer’s exquisitely judged orchestral craftsmanship (for example, there is now a violin solo in the ‘Minuet’, nicely played if too saccharine an addition, although the conclusion is especially expressive) – but, why tamper with perfection? This is not to dampen praise for the sensitive performance, well-judged as such, but some things are sacrosanct...
What might be a delightful discovery (it’s new to me) is Eugène Goossens’s Oboe Concerto, written in 1927 for his brother Léon. This twelve-minute piece enjoys a variety of colours within its rhapsodic design and pastoral expression, the latter awakened from its slumbers to a march with sardonic leanings; otherwise brooding contemplation is the dominant feature of this attractive creation, sometimes exotic in mien, with imaginative use of harp, and then with as many oboe notes as can be fitted onto the page the Concerto is taken to a swift and bright conclusion.