Thanks to Father George Frendo, the Caird Oboe Quartet performed for the Victoria International Arts Festival on 13 July. I was so pleased to play again with Simon Blendis, Douglas Paterson and Jane Salmon in Mozart’s C major quartet (K. 285b) and K. 370. The trio also played Beethoven’s G major trio, Op 9 No 1. Now in its 22nd year, this is the longest running festival in Malta and combines excellent Maltese musicians with visiting artists from far and wide. We very much enjoyed hearing the final concert given by the Malta Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Philip Walsh in Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto (with Godfrey Mifsud as eloquent soloist) and Beethoven’s Eroica. With Gozo enjoying beautiful weather (barring one very windy day) it was an inspiring visit for all of us.
Having spent time with Tully Potter during the Tertis International Competition this year, I was touched to find that he had re-listened to my CD, An English Renaissance. He has posted this piece about the amazing riches of English chamber music for oboe and strings which has triggered discussion since. Thanks to Jeremy Polmear for positing this on the Oboe Classics site and to Jane Walker, Nick Daniel, Chris Marshall et al for joining in. Tully Potter “THE ENGLISH OBOE RENAISSANCE” Thanks to Léon Goossens and his influence, we have a wealth of English chamber music for oboe and strings. I am prompted to mention it, because I have been enjoying George Caird’s 2004 CD (Oboe Classics CC2009) entitled ‘An English Renaissance’. With five very fine string players including his wife Jane Salmon, violinist Simon Blendis, violist Louise Williams and two different second violinists, Caird plays the Quintets by Elizabeth Maconchy, Dorothy Gow and Arthur Bliss and the Fantasy Quartets by Britten and E.J. Moeran. Although I find the one-movement Gow piece a little austere, it does loosen up towards the end. The rest of the disc is all familiar to me musically and, if you will pardon the pun, absolutely Blissful. There is only one overlap with the lovely 1984 CD by Sarah Francis and the English String Quartet (Chandos CHAN 8392), and that is the Moeran, which I can happily have twice in my collection – the two performances are quite distinct, what with different recording characteristics and the individual personalities of the two oboists. Francis’s other pieces are the great Quintet by Arnold Bax, four pieces for quintet by Gustav Holst and Gordon Jacob’s typically enjoyable Quartet. A very individual oboist was Janet Craxton, whom I often heard in concert or in orchestras. An interesting and rewarding disc of her London Oboe Quartet (Oboe Classics CC2011) features works for oboe and strings by Francis Routh, Elizabeth Maconchy (a late Quartet, as opposed to the very early Quintet), Richard Stoker, Nicola LeFanu, Lennox Berkeley and Elizabeth Lutyens (‘Driving out the Death’, Op. 81). For another Lutyens piece by Craxton with the London Oboe Quartet (‘O Absalom…’, Op. 122) you need to seek out a BBC disc (BBC CD 635). Craxton’s playing in all these varied pieces is full of character – she had a very individual speaking voice and somehow it was echoed in her oboe tone! I should mention a few historic performances by Goossens and his pupils. He recorded the Bax Quintet in 1927 with André Mangeot’s International Quartet for the NGS (now on Oboe Classics CC2005). Helen Gaskell and the Griller Quartet, the original performers of the Maconchy Quintet, recorded it in 1933 for HMV (now on Dutton CDBP 9762 with the two other prizewinning works in the 1932 Daily Telegraph competition, string quartets by Edric Cundell and Cecil Armstrong Gibbs, as well as a later Griller recording of Bax’s First Quartet). Evelyn Rothwell (Lady Barbirolli) recorded William Wordsworth’s Oboe Quartet in 1958 with the Robert Masters String Trio for the BBC (now on Barbirolli Society SJB 1045-46). I think that’s enough oboe music for now…”
The XIII Lionel Tertis Viola Competition (6 – 14 April) proved to be a most exciting and enjoyable one. All 36 violists who competed in Port Erin demonstrated their musicianship to great effect and proved why they had been selected from the 120 applicants. Congratulations go to the eight wonderful semifinalists: Paul Adrien Zientara (France), Emma Wernig (Germany/USA), Natalie Loughton (USA), Jordan Bak (USA), Saki Ishida (Japan), Toby Cook (UK), Paul Vincent Laraia (USA) and Yuchen Lu (China). And special congratulations go to Paul Vincent Laraia (First Prize) , Yuchen Lu (Second Prize) and Paul Adrien Zientara (Third Prize) in a very close competition. With the generous support of The Tertis Foundation, the Isle of Man Arts Council and many other supporters these deserving contestants were all recipients of awards.
Throughout the week, there were some outstanding performances including many of the beautifully written set work, Canto, by Roxanna Panufnik. Paul Vincent Laraia, Yuchen Lu, Paul Adrien Zientara and Toby Cook deserve especial mention in this respect. There were most impressive performances of Bach’s Suite No 6 Prelude and Paganini’s Caprice Op 1 No 20 from Saki Ishida, and Jordan Bak gave a really exciting account of the Bach Fantasia Chromatica and the Sonata of Arthur Bliss. Hindemith’s Der Schwanendreher was played superbly by Shuo Xu whilst Aoi Murase played the Ligeti Sonata most impressively. Jordan Bak’s Schnittke Concerto should also be commended as should a beautiful and lyrical performance of the York Bowen Sonata by Keigo Suzuki. There were many more memorable performances…….the list could go on and on.
Thanks to John Bethell and the whole team at the Erin Arts Centre for all that was done to make the week a happy and enjoyable one. Thanks too to Louise Lansdowne and Lucy Nolan for all they did to make the Viola Festival a success. Also to my fellow jurors, William Coleman, Carol Rodland, Danusha Waskiewicz and Mikhail Zemtsov for playing brilliant recitals and giving a masterclass each during their busy week. Accompanists Caroline Dowdle, Robert Markham, Antony Hewitt and HunJu Sohnn also deserve medals for tireless and top quality pianism thoughout the week. An finally thanks to Simon Blendis and Jane Salmon for their perfromances of Beethoven and Dohnanyi, not to mention the Ghost and the Mendelssohn D minor with Robert Markham.
Paul Vincent Laraia
The weather was on our side so the Isle of Man was seen in its very best light!
Sunset at Port Erin during the competition.
I am looking forward to my return to the Erin Arts Centre, Isle of Man this week (6 – 13 April) for the XIII Lionel Tertis International Viola Competition. I will be chairing the jury with distinguished violists William Coleman, Carol Rodland, Danusha Waskiewicz and Mikhail Zemtsov. I look forward to seeing the Tertis Foundation’s Advisory Committee, Sarah-Jane Bradley, Louise Lansdown, Martin Outram and Tully Potter. As ever, the week will be action packed thanks to the organisation skills of John Bethell and the Erin Arts Centre – masterclasses, recitals, seminars and interviews. And for me it will be an added bonus that my wife, Jane Salmon (cello) and colleague Simon Blendis (violin), will perform string trios with the leading contestants as part of the competition. They will be joined by pianist Robert Markham for a concert of piano trios on Thursday 11 April.
Lionel Tertis (1876 – 1975)
Congratulations to Jan Schmolck and the Oxford Sinfonia for their performance of the Brahms Violin Concerto on Saturday in St Mary’s Church, Oxford. It was a treat for me to conduct this along with Judith Weir’s Heroic Strokes of the Bow and Brahms’ St Anthony Variations. Thanks to all involved in this and especially to Neil Halliday, Simon Payne, Chris Britten and all those involved in the organsation. Thanks too to Judith Weir for coming to the concert and speaking to the audience – we were honoured to have you with us, Judith!
I am looking forward to my concert with The Oxford Sinfonia which will take place at 7.30pm on Saturday 30 March in the University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Oxford. Jan Schmolck will be the soloist in Brahms’ Violin Concerto and to balance this great work we will start the concert with Brahms’ St Anthony Variations, a work that I have long wished to conduct.
In addition, the orchestra and I will be proud to present Judith Weir’s Heroic Strokes of the Bow, written for the Westdeutsche Sinfonie in 1991-2 and now widely performed by orchestras the world over. This work was inspired by the Paul Klee painting which is now in the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Paul Klee was himself an excellent violin player and played professionally in Berne’ Municipal Orchestra. Weir writes: “My personal obesrvation is that perhaps Klee himself was influenced in some of his work by the visual imagery of musical notation with which he was so familiar. To a musican’s eye, Klee’s geometrical shapes and regularly repeated simple patterns seem to release information directly into the mind; looking at a Klee painting feels like reading music”.
The first of two concerts that I am privileged to conduct this spring in Oxford will take place in Tingewick Hall, John Radcliffe Hospital, Headington at 7.45pm on Saturday 9 March. Tom Barber will be the soloist in Mozart’s Oboe Concerto. We have chosen a programme of two great classical symphonies (Mozart’s Haffner and Beethoven 2) to fit with the beautiful oboe concerto and, to add music of a later era, Ravel’s Mother Goose will add charm and colour to this programme. In this work, don’t miss Ian White’s contrabassoon in Beauty and the Beast, or leader Sky Jaskutelyte’s violin solos, Helen Stradling (violin), Peter McElwaine-John (viola) , Sue Hipkiss (cello), wind solos from Andrew Turberfield (flute), Jane Settle (flute and piccolo), Henry Bettinson and Sarah Pendlebury (oboes and cor anglais), Miguel Angel Jimenez and Simon Kroll (clarinets), Alison Matthews (bassoon), Ken Craig and Amy Thakurdas (horns), John Stradling (trumpet), Rupert McShane (harp) and Justin Rhodes (timpani). And, of course the whole orchestra. It will be an exciting show!
The concert will be in aid of Rosie’s Rainbow Fund supporting sick and disabled children in hospital, school and in the community whilst offering beareavement support for families after the loss of a child. The Radcliffe Orchestra mainly made up from fine musicians who are also working in the medical professions, is a remarkable organisation. Do come and support!
Tom Barber, oboe
I very much enjoyed my visit to the Torbay Musical Weekend on 16 November thanks to the invitation from John Isaac (Chair), Maureen Greenhouse and all the committee. My presentation on the legacy of Léon Goossens was a chance to make use of Jeremy Polmear’s fantastic recordings for Oboe Classics and to play other tracks by great British players from Goossens’ time to the present day. It’s amazing to hear Goossens’ magical playing and to share this with others – what he did for the oboe really was extraordinary.
I seized the chance to play the Brahms Violin Concerto solo on the old Lorée (similar to Goossens’) that I bought from Quentin Poole years ago – to show how different the sound and feel is to a modern oboe, in the case my Howarth XL. I also took the opportunity to weave in my work on Britten and, on this occasion, the Temporal Variations.
My presentation was followed by John Isaac’s own selection of recordings across genres and years – a touching hour with perceptive comments.
Léon Goossens (1897 – 1988)
Further to the Ovid project that I took part in last March in Oxford , I am looking forward to repeating the concert in Gozo this week. The Oxford Girls’ Choir will give two concerts in the Gozo Mediterranea Festival, one in St George’s Golden Basilica on Tuesday and the Ovid Festival concert on Friday in the Kemplinski Hotel. This will comprise Handel’s Semele interwoven with the movements of Britten’s Six Metamorphoses after Ovid with six dancers drawn from the choir. The performance (conducted by Richard Vendome and directed by Penelope Martin-Smith with choreography by Lucia Boué) proved most effective when it was done in Oxford and it will be exciting to do it one more time.
Kammermusik returns to Oxford again next week and it will be great to see everyone at St Edmund Hall from Sunday evening. It seems an age since our last workshop in Santa Fe in July 2017 – so much has happened since then!
I look forward to working with everyone on the course and to playing with wind tutors Robert Manasse, Marie Ross, Stephen Stirling and Anthea Wood. I am putting my mind to double reed ensemble music, too – a great feature of these weeks!
Thanks to Keith Bowen, Will Buss and all the Kammermusik team for all they are doing to make the week lift off.
Keith Bowen, Kammermusik