Notes and Editorial Reviews
Benoît Laurent (ob); dir; Lingua Franca (period instruments)
RICERCAR 304 (55:36)
Suite in a.
Suite in g. Sonata in F.
Partita in c.
Concerto in G.
Concerto in G
) refers to works written during the Baroque period for an ensemble of oboes and bassoons, usually but not invariably intended for open-air performance. It might surprise you to learn that the instruments were quite the novelty during this period. Before 1630 the oboe and bassoon (in the modern sense) were unheard of; by 1640 prototypes began to appear, the creation of several families of bagpipe makers working in the environs of Paris. By 1700 French oboists and bassoonists were playing their newfangled instruments in orchestras throughout Europe. This meteoric rise is unprecedented in Western art music, but was helped along by at least one extra-musical event, as we shall see.
Basically the oboe started as a redesign of the old shawm. The French makers hit upon the brilliant idea of making the oboe in sections rather than in one piece, thus allowing for more precise manufacture. They removed the shawm’s pirouette, or cap, in the process giving the player direct contact with the reed and greater control of dynamics. Other design features, such as smaller tone holes and a narrower bore, turned the raucous shawm into a refined instrument capable of partnering with violins and flutes. Somewhat confusingly, the Parisian makers applied the name
(loud woodwind) to the new instrument, the same as had been used for the shawm. In the days before the French Academy, the language still retained many of the features of medieval pronunciation; this meant that the word would have been sounded something like
. The corresponding Italian word was
(oh-boh-ay), a phonetic respelling of the 17th-century French pronunciation, and this became the standard term throughout much of Europe. Except the English, of course, who had their own unique name for it: “hoboy.”
Lully began using the new instruments in his operas and ballets in the 1660s. A military ensemble of oboes and bassoons called Les Hautbois et Bassons de Poitou had been added to the Grande Écurie du Roy around the same time and quickly became one of the King’s favorites. Lully made the inspired move of importing oboists and bassoonists from the Grande Écurie into his string ensemble, Les Vingt-quatre Violons du Roy, in effect creating the modern orchestra. Another fateful
for the oboe, this one not nearly as benevolent, was Louis XIV’s revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. This caused thousands of Protestant musicians, artists, and intellectuals to flee France, some of whom were players of the brand-new instruments. One such was oboist Alexis Saint-Martin; he found a job at the court of Milan and changed his name to Sammartini. His eldest son, Giuseppe, would later be known as the leading oboe player in Handel’s London.
By the turn of the century, players of the French oboe and bassoon could be found at nearly every court in Europe. Since the Sun King’s ascension to the throne in 1643, French music and culture had been exceedingly fashionable among the German minor nobility. Princes, dukes, and counts aped every aspect of Louis’s court, right down to the oboe band. Because many of the best players now hailed from German-speaking countries, composers such as Fischer, Telemann, Müller, and Fasch were prompted to write increasing numbers of works for the popular ensemble.
Johann Fischer (1646–1716) was a peripatetic composer who worked for a time in Paris under Lully. His suite for two oboes,
(a low-pitched oboe in F), bassoon, and continuo could serve as a stand-in for any number of pieces by Lully. It opens with a rather old-fashioned
and includes several characteristic dance numbers. The suite and sonata of Johann Michael Müller (1683–1743), director of music at the court of Hanau, are stately five-movement works for three oboes (one is solo), taille, bassoon, and continuo. Georg Philipp Telemann hardly needs introduction; his partita for two oboes, taille, bassoon, and continuo is an arrangement of a piece for solo oboe from his
of 1716. As such, the first oboe part carries almost all of the melodic interest. From the standpoint of scoring, the concerto of Johann Friedrich Fasch (1688–1758) is the most unusual item on the program. Written for two oboes da caccia (an alternate form of the taille with a brass bell), two violas, two bassoons, and continuo, it was recently unearthed in a German library; this appears to be its world premiere recording. Like so many works of Fasch, this one is an absolute treat; it’s filled with exotic, enticing sonorities that are reminiscent of Bach’s Sixth
. Christophe Förster (1693–1748) was a pupil of Johann David Heinichen at the court of Dresden. His lively five-movement concerto is the only piece on the program that logically could be called
(“field music”), as it does not include or indeed require basso continuo.
The name of Benoît Laurent is new to me; my guess is that he and his group are making their recording debut with this CD. I am impressed by Laurent’s playing: fluid, colorful, and solidly in tune. His colleagues back him to the hilt with delectable, well-blended sonorities. There have been several excellent recordings of oboe band music since the 80s—Paul Goodwin’s two Harmonia Mundi CDs are primary examples, although they’re no longer available. The Ricercar CD is a worthy successor to any and all of them. As it contains first-time recorded performances of nearly every piece (the Telemann excepted), it should not be missed by devotees of the Baroque oboe band.
FANFARE: Christopher Brodersen
Works on This Recording
Suite in A minor by Johann Caspar Fischer
Sonata in G minor by Johann Michael Muller
Concerto in G major by Christoph Forster
Sonata in F major by Johann Michael Muller
Be the first to review this title