ALBINONI: Oboe Concertos, Vol. 1 (Anthony Camden/ John Georgiadis/ London Virtuosi/ Murray Khouri) (Naxos: 8.550739)
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Tomaso Giovanni Albinoni (1671-1751)
Oboe Concerti, Op. 9, Nos. 2,3,5,8,9 & 11
The oboe, perfected in France around the middle of the seventeenth century,gained acceptance in Venice during the 1690s. The first known Venetian operas toinclude apart for it dated from 1692, and by 1696 at the latest it had beenheard at the Basilica of San Marco, which two years later recruited its firstpermanent player of the oboe. Several other oboists of note establishedthemselves in the city, and the four ospedali grandi (the charitableinstitutions caring for foundlings, orphans and the destitute) added theinstrument to the teaching curriculum.
It was logical, given Italy's - and, indeed, Venice's - pioneering r??le inthe development of the Concerto, that sooner or later the first concerti withparts for oboes would be written. The big question was how, if at all, Should,they differ in style and form from violin concerti? For Vivaldi, as for mostItalian composers, the problem was easily resolved. In his hands the oboebecomes a kind of ersatz violin. To be sure, he takes care not to exceed thenormal compass of the instrument (running from the D above Middle C to the D twooctaves higher), remembers to insert pauses for breathing and avoids over-abruptchanges of register, but the solo part still seems remarkably violinistic - asVivaldi himself tacitly acknowledged when, on more than one occasion, heprescribed the violin as an alternative to the oboe.
It was left to Vivaldi's important Venetian contemporary, Tomaso Albinoni(1671-1751), to find another way of treating the oboe in a concerto. Apart frombeing a capable Violinist, Albinoni was a singing teacher married to an operaticdiva. His experience of writing operas and cantatas decisively affected the wayin which he approached melody and instrumentation. His concerti equate the oboenot with a violin but with the human voice in an aria. Conjunct movement andsmall intervals are generally preferred to wide skips. In opening orchestralpassages the oboe does not double the first violin (as in Vivaldi concerti) butbides its time until its solo entry or else supplies an independent line. Theopening solo idea is often presented twice - the first time abortively, thesecond time with a normal continuation. This twofold presentation is a deviceborrowed straight from the operatic aria of the time.
Albinoni describes these works as concerti 'with', rather than 'for' oboe.
The difference is significant. Whereas in a Vivaldi oboe concerto the prime aimis to showoff the capability of the soloist, here the oboe is the partner ratherthan the dominator of the first violin - and even the second violin is notexcluded from the discourse. The spirit of give and take that exists between thetreble instruments lends these works a character that reminds one of chambermusic.
Albinoni's first set of Concerti a cinque with parts for one or two oboes,published in Amsterdam as his Op. 7 in 1715, has the distinction of beingthe first such collection by an Italian composer ever published. Some of theworks in it, in particular those with two oboes, show their novelty by beinginsubstantial in content or uncertain in form. Seven years later Albinonireturned to the genre, this time with greater maturity and mastery.
He dedicated his new opus to Max II Emanuel, elector of Bavaria. During muchof the War of the Spanish Succession, Max, an ally of the French, had lived inexile, but in 1715 he re-established his court in Munich. Music flourished there(five oboists were on the payroll!), and Albinoni will almost certainly have metthe elector personally in 1720, when his wife Margarite sang in opera at Munich.
The dedication evidently paid off handsomely, for later that year (1722)Albinoni was invited to write festive stage works for a wedding at the electoralcourt.
The Op. 9 concerti are subdivided into four groups, each of whichbegins with a concerto for solo violin (here the oboe is silent), continues witha concerto for one oboe and finishes with one for two oboes. No.5, in C major,is a typical specimen of the composer's late style. The orchestral texture is inplaces highly contrapuntal, but Albinoni never sacrifices tunefulness to a showof learning. Arthur Hutchings, his greatest advocate among Britishmusicologists, aptly describes the finale as 'conveying the allure of the dancewithout suggesting the street or barnyard'.
F major is one of the traditional keys of the natural horn, which because ofits association with hunting was treated as an emblem of the nobility and thecourtly way of life. Accordingly, Albinoni, in homage to the Bavarian elector,fills the fast outer movements of the third concerto with hunting calls. Themasterpiece of the set is undoubtedly the second concerto, whose long, elegiacslow movement has been dubbed Albinoni's second Adagio'.
The concerti in B flat major (no.11) and G minor (no.8)complete the group of concerti with one oboe. Albinoni was very sensitive to theassociations of different keys. For him, B flat major is bright andassertive, G minor melancholy and introspective. Similarly, the key ofthe other 'double' concerto in this recording, no.9 in C major,conforms to a familiar stereotype, being triumphant with a touch of pomposity.
Luckily, the slow movements, which in every case are in a different key, providethe necessary contrast and give each work a well-rounded character.
@ 1993 Michael Talbot
The London Virtuosi
The London Virtuosi was founded in 1972 by Anthony Camden, James Galway andprincipal string players from the London Symphony Orchestra. In the 21 years ofits life the London Vir1uosi has performed in all the major countries in theworld -USA, Canada, Mexico, Europe, China, Japan etc. It has been the residentorchestra in Festivals in the UK and Spain and made many recordings. In recentyears the London Vir1uosi has specialised in performing all the BrandenburgConcertos and a large reper1oire of Baroque and classical music. The orchestraconsists of 16 string players, a harpsichord and an oboe and is directed fromthe violin by the leader John Georgiadis who was previously the Concer1masterfor 15 years of the London Symphony Orchestra.
Violins John Georgiadis
Violas Brian Hawkins
Cellos Douglas Cummings
Bass Linda Houghton
Harpsichord Paul Nicholson
Anthony Camden is solo oboist with the London Virtuosi, having served asprincipal oboe in the London Symphony Orchestra from 1972 to 1988. His solorecordings with the London Symphony Orchestra include the Bach Concerto forviolin and oboe, with Yehudi Menuhin, the Oboe Concerto by Grace Williams and avideo of music by Bach with Claudio Abbado. He founded the London Virtuosi in1972 with James Galway and John Georgiadis and the ensemble thereafter touredwidely in the Americas, throughout Europe and in the Far East. Anthony Camdenhimself, the son of a very distinguished British bassoonist, has given masterclasses at many of the most famous conservatories and schools of music. Inaddition to some 400 recordings with the London Symphony Orchestra, hisrecordings with the London Virtuosi include Mozart's Oboe Quartet, aTelemann Trio for