Christopher Redgate has spent the last three years working on the redesign of the oboe’s key structure, with the result that a new instrument has been born, built in collaboration with the British oboe makers Howarth of London. The new instrument is the Howarth-Redgate 21st Century Oboe, and this CD, the first volume of a planned series, introduces the instrument with music specially created by composers who have a particularly close association with Redgate and with exploratory music.
As is immediately evident from that Aeolian Prelude, the first track of Edwin Roxburgh’s The Well Tempered Oboe , this new instrument meets the demands not only of adventurous players, but also, as has been proven with long historical precedence, by the imaginative demands of composers. Technical developments in the nineteenth century transformed the instrument considerably to produce the modern oboe with which we have become familiar. This new Howarth-Redgate oboe not only expands the upper range of the instrument, but also introduces a new series of keys that facilitate the production of multiphonics and microtones,as well as further easing the production of features like flutter-tonguing and glissandi. The four movements of Roxburgh’s piece are no simple showcase of gymnastics, but a carefully crafted work of sensitivity and consummate skill that are a just reward, not only for Redgate’s three-year Research Fellowship at the Royal Academy of Music, but of his thirty years of exploration, collaboration with many composers and other notable performers (like Roxburgh himself), and a range of work as an eminent performer of music of all styles and periods.
The composer Michael Finnissy shares this CD with a monumental work – almost an hour’s duration — called Âwâz-e Niyâz , which, in the language of Persia means Songs from Mysterious Necessity (or Prayerfulness), which draws much from the traditional music of the region and from the style of its presentation. Perhaps most remarkably, this enormous work is a series of sections that alternate between Redgate’s new oboe, and a newly designed bass oboe called a Lupophon, with a range from low F at the bottom of the bass stave to a high B above the treble — a wider range than either the usual bass oboe or the heckelphone, long a challenge to conductors of Elektra or Delius’ Requiem .
Finnissy is not only skillful in these seamless alternations, but so superbly inventive that the hour passes without undue stress. The third section returns to the Lupophon, illustrating its extended range and often menacing character, the changes from one instrument to the other neatly bridged with Finnissy’s own expert keyboard playing, an equal partnership rather than accompaniment, which serves to change each dramatic scene. Exotic melisma explore the subtleties of its bending tones, while later there is a journey into this ‘improved’ oboe’s highest regions.
The research behind this remarkable CD is well rewarded by music that is as fascinating and challenging as it is revelatory.