Vivaldi / Marcello / Telemann / Bach: Concertos for Oboe and Oboe d'amore - Kuljus
Alba Records ABCD 411
Classical - Orchestral
Vivaldi: Concerto for Oboe in C major, RV 447
Marcello: Concerto for Oboe in D minor, SF 935
Telemann: Concerto for Oboe d'amore in G major, TWVW 51:G3
Bach: Concerto for Oboe d'amore in A major, BWV 1055R
Kalev Kuljus (oboe & oboe d'amore)
Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra
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Review by John Miller - December 2, 2017
Here is a simple programme illustrating the Baroque oboe. In this case, the instruments are not real Baroque or copies of Baroque oboes. In 1986, Yukio Nakamura, oboist in the Berlin Opera, returned to Japan after a performing career as an oboist in Germany. Displeased with the state of oboe manufacturing at that time, where the owners of major oboe manufacturers were non-oboists and several generations removed from the original maker, he established "Musik Josef" in Tokyo, a musical instrument reed and accessories shop, and thereforth undertook the study and the manufacture of the oboe.
From his workshop in a suburb of Tokyo, he invited an oboe Meister, Mr Helmut Hager from Leipzig, to come and teach him and his co-workers the basis of oboe manufacture. Hager returned to Germany after three months, and five months later Nakumura and staff completed their first oboe in 2007. The company evolved to Chura-Uto Kobo JOSEF Co.LTD, and moved to Najo city in Okinawa, located in the south of Japan in the Ryukyu Islands.
Usually, an oboe body is made out of Grenadilla wood. Occasionally a special order is preferred, so Mopane or Rosewood is used. In December of 2013 Musik Josef introduced a new material for oboes called LAMI. It is made in Japan and is a dream material for woodwind instruments.
Kalev Kuljus, the soloist in this Alba SACD, is listed by Nakamura as having an MGS-2 professional oboe from JOSEF Co.LTD. Kuljus is principal oboe in the NDR Elbphilharmonie Orchestra. His invitations to play are world-wide, including invitations to be soloist with the Berlin Philharmonic, regarded as the summit of musical artistry.
The Lithuanian Chamber Orchestra is another of those fine Nordic smaller orchestras ‘encircling’ the Baltic. Founded in 1960, it is now recognised as one of the finest and most internationally acclaimed Lithuanian orchestras. This has led to numerous invitations to perform at the world’s prestigious concert halls, and has produced over a hundred recordings of diverse repertoire.
The programme on this disc is named “Concertos for Oboe & Oboe D’Amore”. Berlioz neatly defined the musical importance of oboes: “The sounds of the oboe are suitable for expressing simplicity, artless grace, gentle happiness, or the grief of a weak soul. It renders admirably in cantabile passages”. In other words, it sounds like the Human voice, an attribute repeated through the ages. Kuljus presents us with four Baroque Concertos, two for oboe and two for oboe d’amore, composed by four of the noblest of composers, Antonio Vivaldi and Alessandro Marcello (Italy, oboe); Georg Philipp Telemann and Johann Sebastian Bach (Germany, oboe d’amore).
Each of the concertos are presented with lightness and fluency by Kuljus, melding of the woodwind to the continuo strings in a sort of affetuoso. His playing subtly changes, for example in the frequent exchange between oboe and continuo. Marcello has long topped the baroque-oboe pop charts, and his Concerto in C major RV 447 is indeed popular; many listen and remember it when it is often broadcast on radios. In every Concerto Kuljus is technically impeccable and musically intelligent. The change in tone to the oboe d’amore, in its depth and warmth, lifts the heart in the later Baroque Concertos from Telemann and Johann Bach. The strings constituted by the continuo group also work directly with Kiljus; many Baroque continuo are improvised, whereas the four concertos here follow complete parts in the continuo score. Their conductor is also Kuljus, so that the written musical conversations are delightful, whether solemn Larghetto or jaunty Minuet. Although relatively short (55:02), this disc provides pleasure in every moment.
Generally, the recording of the SACD is excellent. Strings have fine clarity and location, in one of studios of Lithuanian National Radio (2015), but I found a touch of dryness in the studio which seemed to flatten out the musician’s group, so there is little sense of a front to back. Kuljus with his oboes also sounds nearer than usual. This, however, does pose every detail to us. Although these observations have not been disturbed by my enjoyment, I would have liked some more ambience to provide a little more magic as provided by Alba’s recorders such as Mika Koivusalo or Simon Fox-Gál.
There are some unusual attributes of this recording of Baroque Oboe Concertos, e.g. information the superb instrument from Japan and a continuo of strings conducted as well as solo playing (Kalev Kuljus). The whole programme is an unusual one. It all comes together and one’s ears rapidly settle and listen to the music and not the recording. Very worth acquiring for your collection; it will probably be played many times.
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