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Martinu, Zimmermann, Strauss: Oboe Concertos / Schill, Jansons, Bavarian RSO

Release Date: 09/29/2009 
Label:  Oehms   Catalog #: 737   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Bohuslav MartinuBernd Alois ZimmermannRichard Strauss
Performer:  Stefan Schilli
Conductor:  Mariss Jansons
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

MARTINU Oboe Concerto. ZIMMERMANN Oboe Concerto. R. STRAUSS Oboe Concerto Stefan Schilli (ob); Mariss Jansons, cond; Bavarian RSO OEHMS 737 (54:44)

It pleases me to see a recent uptick in recordings of the music of Bohuslav Martinu (1890–1959). I suspect it’s due largely to the 50th anniversary in 2009 of the composer’s death. Martinu’s music has always appealed to me, Read more ever since my first exposure to it on an Artia LP of the Double Concerto for Two String Orchestras and Timpani. I no longer have that recording, but if dimming memory serves, I believe the conductor was Karl An?erl. Anyway, Martinu’s music is often a heady mix of his native Czech and later adoptive French and American influences: 20th-century latent Dvo?ák recast by its encounter with Roussel, Stravinsky, Les Six, d’Indy’s Schola Cantorum, and a bit of 1940s American jazz idioms. Though Alan Hovhaness is often mentioned as Martinu’s most prominent student, classic pop fans might be delighted to know that Burt Bacharach also studied with him. Martinu emigrated to the U.S. in 1941 after the Germans invaded France, but his final days were spent in Switzerland.

The Oboe Concerto was written in 1955, after Martinu had returned to France. It was commissioned by Czech oboist Ji?i Tancibudek who, along with his wife, had been expelled from Czechoslovakia and had taken up residence in Sydney, Australia, where the work was premiered in 1956 by the Sydney Symphony Orchestra under Hans Schmidt-Isserstedt. Not surprisingly, the piece delivers on the expectations set forth by the above-cited influences. It’s a jaunty, jolly thing, with a hint of Gershwin in the first movement, and tinged by Martinu’s gift for darker-hued, dumka -like, Czech-flavored melodies. It’s a short work, playing for only a little over 16 minutes, but its three movements in classic fast-slow-fast order are perfectly polished miniature gems, and the writing is beautifully crafted for the oboe.

Bernd Alois Zimmermann (1918–1970) caused a stir in avant-garde circles with his 1965 opera, Die Soldaten , a work some have called the most important opera of the 20th-century. Yours truly, on the other hand, called it a piece of eurotrash, and not a single reader wrote in to object. Zimmermann’s 1952 Oboe Concerto is mercifully short, lasting for just under 14 minutes, which is the second kindest thing I can think to say about it. The first is that for most of the time it does seem to treat the oboe as an actual musical instrument; and on the whole, the piece is not as hard on the ears as some more recent examples of the musique concrète persuasion I’ve heard. Still, there’s a lot of plinking, planking, and plunking punctuating panicked percussive discharges from the orchestra and pinched squeals from the oboe. Interestingly, there is another recording of the work with oboist Thomas Indermühle on the Camerata label that contains the exact same complement of works as the current CD does, with the addition of the A-Minor Oboe Concerto by Vaughan Williams.

Leaving the dried up, withered weeds of the Zimmermann behind, we come to Richard Strauss’s resplendently romantic D-Major Oboe Concerto, a late work composed in 1945. An afterword to his sprawling tone poems and great operas, the concerto foreshadows some of the very last works Strauss would write, including the Four Last Songs . The first movement is playful, but the second movement Andante fills the air with the fragrance of those late-blooming autumn flowers that distinguish much of Strauss’s late style. Even the scherzo-like Vivace pauses for a moment for nostalgic reflection; and the concluding Allegro takes on the character of a Don Quixote done tilting at windmills and much the wiser for it.

I’m unable to offer a comparison with the aforementioned Camerata disc, but this new Oehms release, recorded between 2006 and 2008, is ambrosia for the soul. Even the Zimmermann Concerto cannot spoil the tangy taste of the Martinu or the ear-pleasing textures of the Strauss. Stefan Schilli has held the post of principal oboe with the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra since 1992, and on evidence of his playing here I have to conclude that he’s a world-class artist on his instrument. Mariss Jansons, of course, will be familiar to most readers from his work with Amsterdam’s Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra. He also occupies the position of chief conductor of the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, and appears in that capacity on this disc. I cannot recommend this release too highly.

FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Oboe by Bohuslav Martinu
Performer:  Stefan Schilli (Oboe)
Conductor:  Mariss Jansons
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1955; Czech Republic 
Concerto for Oboe by Bernd Alois Zimmermann
Performer:  Stefan Schilli (Oboe)
Conductor:  Mariss Jansons
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: 20th Century 
Written: 1952; Germany 
Concerto for Oboe in D major, AV 144 by Richard Strauss
Performer:  Stefan Schilli (Oboe)
Conductor:  Mariss Jansons
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1945-1948; Germany 

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