Oboe virtuoso Christopher Redgate has worked tirelessly to create contemporary music for his instrument, and to extend the practical capabilities of the instrument. This disc features British works for oboe and ensemble.
The disc features two works by Roger Redgate, the oboist’s brother. The Quintet for oboe and strings which opens the disc is a complex atonal work with an explosive opening. A slower section ensues, and an extended duo interlude for oboe and cello. The textural writing is well conceived and much is contained within this short movement. Despite its complexity, this is highly expressive music, with the strings accompanying a beautifully shaped oboe line which ascends to the extremes of the instrument’s high range. The second Redgate work on the disc, Eperons, is a duo for oboe and percussion. The oboe begins with an extended solo, which serves as a virtuoso showpiece, taking the instrument to its limits. The percussion part is no less complex, and this is a work which makes big demands in terms of both the individual lines and the ensemble. Once again, the music is expressively played, and the technical demands never sound out of control or gimmicky; it is a testament to Christopher Redgate’s playing that this music almost sounds easy.
Michael Finnissy’s Greatest Hits of All Time lends its title to the CD as a whole, and uses four elements borrowed from other music. The oboe line is based on Korean traditional music, making wide use of microtonal scales, while the instruments in the ensemble play material based on Mahler’s 6 th Symphony, Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Beethoven’s late piano sonatas. Oboe, piano and percussion feature heavily in the work. The second Finnissy work is Ceci n’est pas une forme . A solo oboe line glides and meanders through the work, with the accompaniment of a piano punctuated by pizzicato strings. With references to art (Magritte and Broodthaers), the title suggests the perception of music in time, with forms being created and unraveled as the work continues. There is something haunting about this piece, with its microtonal language and continuously evolving lines.
After the complexity of some of the other works, Christopher Fox’s Oboe Quintet serves as something of a palate cleanser. This is a stunning piece, which immediately captures the imagination. Fox uses different tonalities to create an exotic sound-scape, and the oboe sound is used to stand out from the strings to create a dramatic contrast of timbre. Written in distinct sections, there is a sense of direction through the work and some beautifully expressive moments, including some wonderful harmonies in the central slow section.
Howard Skempton’s Garland for Oboe and String Trio is a short, simple work which has considerable charm, while the final work on the disc, James Clarke’s Oboe Quintet , returns to the neo-complexity of the opening of the disc, with a richly microtonal language and scordatura strings. Clarke’s approach to the ensemble is to write for all the instruments ‘as one’, so the textures are largely based around rhythmic unison and blocks of sound. This is a successful approach which creates an engaging sound. Oboe multiphonics are improvised over a pulsating chord in the cadenza section, which becomes more frenzied and intense as it progresses, pushing the work towards its dramatic climax.
This is an excellent disc of well written and imaginative repertoire. Christopher Redgate’s playing is dazzling throughout, and the ensembles with whom he performs are similarly excellent. Redgate deserves to be commended for all he has achieved in developing his instrument’s repertoire, and while this complex contemporary music may not be to everyone’s taste, it demonstrates the capabilities of both the oboe and its performer, both of which have much to offer.