Double Reed News

When we consider the technical challenges for Oboists presented by some nineteenth-century composers, such as Pasculli, our basic training in diatonic music provides a firm foundation for performance preparation. The same could be said of the Strauss Concerto and all diatonic music of the twentieth century. But we have arrived at a stage in the twenty-first century when diatonic music has reached a saturation point for composers who seek a distinctive identity. Movements such as Minimalism, which rely on diatonic intervals but deny harmony and modulation, have failed to produce masterpieces comparable with Brahms or Debussy.

There are many progressive composers today who seek to perpetuate the artistic principles related to the evolution of musical language through the ages in a region of unexplored territory. They do not deny the presence of diatonic elements, but simply add to the vocabulary of composition, which some of the composers on this CD exemplify. For a composer it is the greatest gift one could receive when an oboist of such artistic fervour and intellectual vision as Christopher Redgate proclaims his occupation of this fresh and vital new territory. With a technique that treats Pasculli as a five-finger exercise, this oboist brings the beauty of tone he provides for Bach to the modern repertoire. Even as a student, Chris recognised that the oboe was capable of a much wider range of characteristics than generally practiced. Realising that Gillet Studies could only help with nineteenth-century music, he made an early start on multiphonics, microtones, rapid display of non-diatonic intervals, circular breathing, varieties of rapid articulation, complex rhythmic phrasing and all the musical subtleties which enhance not only progressive contemporary music, but Mozart as well. This CD is a remarkable statement and an example of oboe playing for a new age. Students should be encouraged to study it in order to broaden their artistic horizons for a future in which diversity is a hallmark of creative endeavour.

The fusion of string and oboe textures in Roger Redgate’s Quintet is far removed from the traditional approach of solo oboe with string accompaniment. The result is a scintillating display of interconnected figurations with constantly changing colour complexes. As with Roger’s other works it is courageous in its individuality and magic in the expressive content. Chris’s top C# (3 octaves above middle C) is spectacular; so too is the virtuosity of the Kreutzer Quartet. The other Redgate work Éperon brings the percussionist, Julian Warburton, in support of a wild exploration of the oboe’s capabilities. The composer wishes the performer to be aware of the freedom of jazz improvisation while the music itself is intensely organised and stylistically far removed. It is an astonishing display of virtuosity from both performers and composer.

There are two pieces by Michael Finnissy. Greatest Hits of all Time has four layers of diverse substance resulting in an imaginative essay in an unworldly landscape. Ceci n’est pas une forme finds the oboe anchored to a G pedal, turning phrases in a very concentrated register against the piano, which plays independent filigree phrases in a similar central register. Both works are mesmerising in the intensity of the substance and virtuosic display.

Howard Skempton is represented in a miniature, Garland , for oboe and string trio. Based on three oscillating note values, its lyrical simplicity is in sharp contrast to the other works.

Christopher Fox’s Oboe Quintet is static in character, but not without episodic contrasts. Laced with Lyrical moments, the more aggressive sections are ritualistic in the constant repetition of the material.

The cor anglais is introduced in James Clark’s Oboe Quintet . This is also harmonically static, but dressed in virtuosic figurations and extended techniques for all the instruments. It is a rather angry work, demanding constant intensity of expression from all.

Most of the works are challenging for any oboist, but no more so than Rachmaninoff’s Etudes Tableaux for pianists. Good pieces are often difficult and challenging. With an ambassador as brilliant as Christopher Redgate, the oboe has become a leading instrument in the evolution of classical music.

—Edwin Roxburgh