Strauss: Oboe Concerto, Wind Serenade, Wind Sonatina No. 2 - Ogrintchouk / Nelsons
Classical - Orchestral
Strauss: Oboe Concerto, Wind Serenade, Wind Sonatina No. 2
Alexei Ogrintchouk (oboe)
Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra
Andris Nelsons (conductor)
Despite his advanced age and the chaos surrounding him, Richard Strauss remained highly productive well into the 1940s. As the Second World War was coming to an end in 1944-45, the eighty-year-old composer was working on his Oboe Concerto and Sonatina No. 2 for winds, as well as the Metamorphosen for strings. While the latter work was an explicit response to the destruction Strauss was witnessing, in the Concerto and the Sonatina the composer seemed to be turning his mind away from the events surrounding him. There is a pastoral quality to the oboe concerto, with a highly tuneful solo part and more than occasional touches of nostalgia for the 18th century.
Similarly, Strauss headed the score of the sonatina with a dedication ‘to the spirit of the immortal Mozart at the end of a life full of thankfulness’. To an extent, one might say that Strauss at the end of his life returned to the musical models of his youth. It is therefore fitting that these two works frame the Serenade in E flat major for wind ensemble, composed more than sixty years earlier in the tradition of entertainment music by Schubert and Mendelssohn. Alexei Ogrintchouk, one of today’s leading oboists, has proven himself in previous recordings for BIS ranging from Bach to Nikos Skalkottas and Antal Doráti. With sterling support from the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra conducted by Andris Nelsons, he here makes light of the considerable difficulties of the solo part of the oboe concerto, and also directs his colleagues from the orchestra’s wind section in the works for wind ensemble.
Review by Adrian Quanjer - July 5, 2017
I can hardly think of anyone else than Ogrintchouk, shouldered by Andris Nelsons at the rostrum and his own colleagues from the RCO, to be more competent for an exemplary rendition of Strauss’ Oboe Concerto. Indeed, the soloist must be a musical acrobat who doesn’t need to breathe, at least so it seems. Had this been a live concert, we would have been breathless by its sight alone. But even though we cannot see if and when the soloist is able to breathe during the lengthy virtuoso passages, listening to Ogrintchouk is enough to realize what a exceptional technician he is.
But as if that isn’t enough, he also convinces as far as the musical aspect is concerned. Ergo, there are no sounds like one might associate with a pressure cooker or an overheated kettle, but, instead, always producing a lighthearted tone of sunshine and ‘spielerei’, naturally befitting Strauss’ ‘Indian Summer’, as this concerto is often described, and rightly so.
Ogrintchouk, under Valery Gergiev first oboist of the Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra, took over the post of principal oboist of the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra in August 2005. He is at the same time a sought after soloist, recording amongst others extensively for BIS and Pentatone while widely performing on the international concert podiums as soloist and conductor. This brilliant 'Jack of All Trades' is not the first principal to tackle this devilishly difficult concerto. At the end of the Second World War, an American Soldier/oboeist, John de Lancie, asked Strauss to compose a concerto for oboe, which the composer flatly refused. However, Strauss did in the end compose the concerto. Although it was premiered in Zurich, Switzerland, he subsequently decided to grant Lancie permission to play it in America where and as often as he liked. And, yes, Lancie was, in peace time, the Principal Oboe at the Pittsburgh Symphony.
The extensive liner notes give -as usual with BIS- lots of interesting information to which I’m happy to refer. Also as regards the two additional, substantial pieces, The Serenade dating from a much earlier period in his life and the Sonatina composed when he had decided that his productive time was up, but could not resist, being in fact a comp-aholic, doing it ‘to keep himself busy’. Almost 40 minutes of ‘Frolic Workshop’. And that is how it sounds and played, with all the Brio it deserves. The Serenade is better known than the Sonatina, but the two are likewise scarce in the Concert Hall. On record they make for a useful combination, but so far only limitedly available in RBCD. It’s good to have them both here on record in a performance that leaves nothing to be wished for. This is an opportunity not to be missed.
In conclusion: All in all a very welcome addition to the Hi-Res catalogue and, to my mind and taste, in comparison certainly much more rewarding than what is thus far available in this format.
Blangy-le-Château, Normandie, France.
Copyright © 2017 Adrian Quanjer and HRAudio.net
Review by Graham Williams - July 31, 2017
Richard Strauss's incomparable writing for the female voice is matched by a similar fluency in writing for winds as is clearly evident in both his many operas and orchestral works. On this generously filled SACD three compositions (one from the composer's youth and the other two from his final years) are presented in immaculately manicured performances by players from one of the world's great orchestras.
It was a meeting between Strauss and John de Lancie a young American soldier in 1945 that sowed the seeds for the composer's 'Concerto in D for Oboe and Small Orchestra'. When asked by de Lancie whether he had even considered writing an oboe concerto Strauss replied “Non”. Eventually he changed his mind and though the first performance went to Marcel Saillet with the Zurich Tonhalle Orchestra Strauss offered de Lancie the rights to the American premiere of the work. But, following his war service, the oboist became a junior member of the Philadelphia Orchestra and protocol prevented him from performing the premiere in place of Marcel Tabuteau the orchestra’s then principal oboist and, incidentally, de Lancie's teacher. Eventually the privilege of premiering the work went to Mitch Miller a friend and oboist with the CBS Symphony Orchestra. Sadly when de Lancie did eventually made a recording of the concerto in 1987 for RCA he was long retired as a professional oboist and as well as making a cut in the first movement he assigned some of the taxing solo oboe part to other instruments. Though hardly recommendable among the many excellent versions available today on CD it is nevertheless of considerable historic interest.
No such problems beset the virtuoso Alexei Ogrintchouk whose sprightly and genial account of the Concerto allows appreciation of his immaculate phrasing and beauty of tone as well as admiration for his dexterity and phenomenal breath control. Needless to say the alert and supportive accompaniment from Andris Nelsons and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra does full justice to Strauss's delicate orchestral sonorities.
The Oboe Concerto was recorded at public performances given in the Concertgebouw, Amsterdam on the 8th, 9th and 12th of October 2014 by the experienced team of producer Marion Schwebel (Take 5 Music Production) and engineer Everett Porter (Polyhymnia) who have achieved a clean and beautifully transparent sound free of audience noise or applause. Though the soloist's (essential!) intake of breath can just be detected in the cadenzas there is mercifully an absence of clicking keys that in the past have marred some of the many recordings of this concerto.
For the remaining two works on the disc we move to Amsterdam's Singelkerk whose wooden interior provides a spacious acoustic and a warm ambience that benefits both the Serenade and Sonatina, allowing excellent clarity of the individual instrumental lines and a fullness to the overall sound. The performances were recorded in July 2016 by Fabian Frank (Acantus Musikproduktion) with Marion Schwebel again as producer.
The Serenade in E flat was written in 1881 by the 16 year-old composer and its charm and melodic invention brought him to the attention of Hans von Bülow who became a future mentor. The piece is in a single movement and Ogrintchouk directs a poised and carefully moulded account of this delightful score.
Towards the end of his long life Strauss wrote two Sonatinas both modelled on Mozart's “Gran Partita” K361, though having judged that extra wind instruments were required to compete on a more equal basis with four horns, these works require 16 winds instead of the 13 used by Mozart. It is the second of these Sonatinas - subtitled “Joyful Workshop” - that appears here for the first time on SACD. Both works are splendidly directed by Alexei Ogrinchouk and the performances demonstrate the corporate qualities of the superlative RCO winds whose players are individually and deservedly credited in the liner notes.
This beautifully recorded SACD will surely be an essential purchase for all committed Straussians and can be unreservedly recommended.
Copyright © 2017 Graham Williams and HRAudio.net