MUSICWEB (RECORDING OF THE MONTH 12/09):
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.
MUSIC & VISION:
The Redgates, oboist Christopher and conductor Roger, again join forces to produce a stimulating recital of challenging recent pieces focussing mainly on works for oboe and strings all performed by Christopher, the masterly virtuoso. There are two pieces by Roger Redgate, a short Quintet written in 2003 and Éperons , an earlier work from 1988 for oboe and percussion (Julian Warburton) which explores a remarkable range of technical boldness. Christopher Fox's Oboe Quintet was first heard in 1996 and in part is captured in a Stravinskian rhythmic framework, compulsive and exhilarating, though this is only one phase through which the fourteen minute piece passes.
Howard Skempton's style is that of an independent voice , quite apart from much mainstream experimental work. His interest in economy has produced a series of highly intriguing pieces, and the Garland for oboe and string trio is just such a one -- a perfect title for a piece of lyrical beauty .
Michael Finnissy has two pieces on the disc, the first giving its title to the CD, a substantial work for oboe and ensemble , and Ceci n'est pas une forme , a filigree weaving oboe around piano and pizzicato strings. James Clarke's Oboe Quintet allows for the soloist to double on cor anglais, and inhabits a more disruptive atmosphere with a rather menacing closing section.
Excellently recorded with clarity , this is a recital to capture a wide range of interest.
THE SUNDAY TIMES:
The title of this not unesoteric disc of seven works for oboe and strings, and other combinations, mostly written for Redgate, comes courtesy of the second item, Finnissy's 13-minute piece of that name, which draws on Beethoven piano sonatas, Vivaldi's Four Seasons and Mahler's Sixth Symphony (the hammer blows), as well as Korean music. Finnissy casts all this in four simultaneous layers and the result is fascinating. The other works are so good that the disc title is warranted none the less. Quintets by Roger Redgate, Christopher Fox and James Clarke are striking. Clarke's is eight minutes of unadulterated microtonal fierceness. Redgate plays with tremendous zest.
Christopher Redgate regularly takes the oboe into musical territory that pushes the capabilities of his instrument to the limits of what is technically possible, and his latest collection of works for oboe and ensembles of various complexions is as much a stylistic survey of the demands that British music can make today as it is a showcase for his own talents. The musical range of the seven works here is wide. There is the enchanting melodic simplicity of Howard Skempton's tiny Garland for oboe and string trio, and the tangled webs of oboe and string textures and the dense, rebarbative textures in Roger Redgate's and James Clarke's Oboe Quintets respectively. Then there are the folksy hints and ghosts from Stravinsky's Symphonies of Wind in Christopher Fox's Quintet, and the more obvious borrowings from traditional musics in Michael Finnisy's Greatest Hits of All Time (which references Mahler, Beethoven and Vivaldi, too). Redgate's command of the whole spectrum of effects is extraordinary; the disc is sometimes challenging, but always engrossing.
Contemporary composers are rediscovering the oboe and, in this selection, with diversity. What links Michael Finnissy's intricate title track, the acrobatics of Roger Redgate's Éperons, the quasi-impressionism of Howard Skempton. Christopher Fox's dense harmonies and James Clarke's stark abrasiveness is Christopher Redgate's virtuosic oboe playing. ØØØØ
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.
This disc by British oboist Christopher Redgate borrows its title from a riddle-packed Michael Finnissy composition. As Redgate plays material elaborated from Korean traditional music - microtonal inflections to the fore - a pianist mashes up late Beethoven piano sonatas and percussion thuds evoke the 'hammer blows of fate' from Mahler's Symphony No 6, while remaining instruments drop in rhythmic loops derived from Vivaldi's Four Seasons. Finnissy keeps his intentions vague, but if, as I suspect, the point is to reclaim authenticity from material expressively blunted through over-exposure, it's a point powerfully made.
The four layers are unified by the end, but retain their inner integrities. Christopher Fox's elegant Oboe Quintet weaves enigmatic note patterns through a textbook classical structure, while James Clarke's Quintet sounds inoffensive enough - until a long silence (if ever a pause was pregnant, it's this one) and a bloodcurdling ensemble screech tip the music into darker terrain.
AMERICAN RECORD GUIDE:
This program makes high demands on listeners. The unknowing purchaser of this album may be turned off instantly by a barrage of weird sounds, scrapes, and scratches on string instruments and squeaks and squawks on the oboe. This music is not for the faint of heart, not for the timid. In the style of dry British humor, its title, ‘Greatest Hits of All Time', is actually sarcastic mockery of the television and media phrase we are all familiar with.
None of the composers here was born before 1940. The pieces range from minimalist to atmospheric to the nearly melodic, but none is truly any of the above. Hearing music like this forces me to ask whether I see good music and art as a representation or reflection of what is beautiful in the world or of what we aspire to be, or whether I see it as a statement or commentary on beauty, ugliness, or the chaos that may exist in the world. Most antagonists like to argue that art that has shock value is as good as many of the timeless classics. No one can say for sure whether a piece that evokes nightmares will stand the test of time like the wonderful quartets and chamber music of Mozart, Beethoven, or the symphonies of Mahler or the operas of Wagner. But those pieces represent concepts of beauty, real and imaginary.
As a musician and performer, I recognize the high level of technical achievement here, but this is the type of music that demands more of us than just passively expecting beauty to arise from a work of art. Michael Finnissy's Greatest Hits of All Time was written using various bits of ideas from a variety of pieces. My favorite work on the program is Christopher Fox's Oboe Quintet. Some of his melodic inspiration comes from Bernstein, Hindemith, and Stravinsky; and—most
interesting to me—his textural influences seem to come from the movement of the 1970s called Rock in Opposition, which was more prevalent in Europe, especially Belgium, than here in the US.
Howard Skempton's Garland for oboe and string trio is also an atmospheric work, and it is followed by another rather minimalist and microtonal work by Michael Finnissy. The program ends with a raucous quintet by James Clark.
Though most of you would probably run screaming on hearing a snippet of this album, I think it is still worth finding. The music challenges us, and everyone needs to be challenged now and again.