Saturday, August 15, 2015

9/11 Recalled in an Oboe Concerto

I became familiar with composer James MacMillan (b. 1959) from one of violinist Nicola Benedetti's CDs, then I explored his cantata The Seven Last Words from the Cross. On a new CD on the Harmonia Mundi label, MacMillan conducts his own 2010 Oboe Concerto, with Nicholas Daniel performing the solo instrument. Daniel writes in the notes that the second, slow movement, "I am cast as a lead character in a highly dramatic one-act opera. This movement is a massive rewriting of an earlier piece for solo oboe  which MacMillan wrote after the 9/11 atrocities called 'In Angustiis': In Distress." So the concerto has that background in the horror of fourteen years ago; but all three movements are to me quite moving, with the first movement interesting rhythmically and the last moment ending "in a wild Highland dance."

The first piece on the CD is Ralph Vaughan Williams' oboe concerto, a late work of RVW's that begins in a very pastoral way and, while growing more sombre by the end, is to me so beautiful and meditative throughout. The oboist plays almost continually for twenty minutes. It's one of my favorite pieces by RVW or anyone. The CD notes quote Jacqueline Du Pre who called the piece "the oboist's Elgar Cello Concerto."

The other pieces on the CD are MacMillian's short "One for chamber orchestra," where a melody is shared individually among the orchestra's instruments, and also Benjamin Britten's well-known "Suite on English Folks Tunes: A Time There Was." Here is a review of the CD.

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