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Gobo: Commissions And Premiers For The Oboe

Brandon / Pinkston / Galbraith / Henderson
Release Date: 03/27/2012 
Label:  Longhorn Music   Catalog #: 2011001   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Jenni BrandonRussell PinkstonNancy Galbraithjoseph landers
Performer:  Kristin Wolfe-JensenRebecca HendersonRobert FreemanRussell Pinkston,   ... 
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

GOBO: Commissions & Premieres for the Oboe Rebecca Henderson, Susan Hatch Tomkiewicz (ob); Kristin Wolfe Jensen, Rebekah Heller (bn); Robert Freeman (pn); Sheryl Cohen (fl); Rose Taylor (nar) LONGHORN 2010002 (56:36)

BRANDON Wildflower Trio. PINKSTON Gobo. GALBRAITH Of Nature. THOME Estuaries Read more of Enchantment. LANDERS 3 Pieces for Flute & Oboe

Here we have five chamber works for oboe given their premiere recordings. Rebecca Henderson, a prizewinner in the 1995 New York International Competition for Solo Oboists, was acting principal oboe for the National Symphony and Colorado Symphony Orchestras as well as a guest soloist with other orchestras, and had these works written for her or groups she belonged to. She is a professor of oboe at the University of Texas’s Butler School of Music in Austin. Among the most curious is Jenni Brandon’s Wildflower Trio, commissioned in 2004 to honor the life and environmental work of Lady Bird Johnson. The artists performing it here are the same trio that premiered it.

The first movement, subtitled “Wildflowers,” tends toward the key of A, but is constantly in harmonic motion. It is also in a sprightly rhythm, with the piano sprinkling notes on both ends of the keyboard while the oboe and bassoon either double the piano line or make occasional commentary. “Wild Rose, White Butterfly” is much more ruminative and elegiac. Here, the piano sprinkles occasional arpeggios in the upper register while playing a form of basso continuo in the lower while the oboe dominates the melody and the bassoon plays a countermelody, usually in harmony, sometimes on its own. In “The Trumpet Creeper and the Hummingbird” a quirky rhythm dominates, played just by the two wind instruments in amusing counterpoint to each other, almost à la Poulenc. The solo bassoon opens “Indian Paintbrush,” after which the piano plays for a few bars before being rejoined by it. Although the melodic line is rather lyrical and easy to follow, the shifting harmonies are not. “Midsummer in the Garden” is a very gentle, almost Zen-like movement, floating quietly on its own private little stream of sound.

Russell Pinkston’s Gobo for oboe and electronic sounds, also composed for Henderson, pits an expressive and quite lovely oboe melody against a backdrop of ominous and quite ugly electronics. For those who enjoy ominous and ugly electronic sounds, I suppose it will have its adherents, but personally I’d rather hear the solo oboe part by itself. Occasionally the electronic noises quiet down or coalesce into something resembling an accompaniment. (My subtitle for this work is “Concert Piece for Oboe and Spaceship.”) I am, however, intrigued by the somewhat edgy quality of some of the oboe writing, and the piece does develop musically if you can block the electronic sounds out of your mind.

Galbraith’s Of Nature for two oboes and two bassoons includes a narrator reading lines about women wind players, written by music journalist George Putnam Upton in 1890 or quoted from conductor Gustave Kerker around 1900. The first (unintentionally) comical statement by the narrator is, “Nature never intended the fair sex to become players of wind instruments!” Yet the first piece in this little suite, “The Debutants Canon,” says otherwise. It is elegant, almost Mozartian music, elegantly played. The next narration states that women shouldn’t play in orchestras, as any leader will find out after putting up with “feminine disagreement.” Amid the bright, chattering music are hard-to-make-out comments in the background. Yet another complaint about how women should not play wind instruments is given over long-sustained notes by the two oboes and one bassoon, while the second bassoon plays a quirky rhythm against them. This leads, without pause, into “Discordant Machine,” equally quirky and humorous, which ends once again with one bassoon playing against long-held notes by the others. At last we reach “Fugal Effort,” introduced with the words “To treat emotions as if they were mathematics … is cold.” Yet the music here is more mathematical, purposely I’m sure, which has an odd, comic effect in context.

Estuaries of Enchantment was commissioned by the Eleusis Consortium at a time when Henderson was head of that group. Here again we have the poor little oboe pitted against a Phil Spector-like wall of electronic sound. Simulated broken glass, ersatz welding and broken tractor noises all contribute to the delightful effects here. (My subtitle for this work is “Concert Piece for Oboe and Meat Grinder.”) And here, even the writing for oboe is unpleasant and, to my ears, meaningless. Sometimes I really do wonder what goes through these composers’ minds when they write this stuff. Do they really mean it? Or are they just trying to push our buttons and make us all walk out on the performance? This one would certainly do it for me.

Happily, the disc ends with the more palatable Three Pieces for Flute and Oboe by Joseph Landers—if you can accept atonal or modal music as being more palatable than electronic noises (I sure can). At least, the first movement is atonal; the second is more lyrical and modal. The sprightly third movement again plays with angular, modal themes, and is highly virtuosic.

Henderson plays with a wonderful tone and impeccable control of her instrument, as do her colleagues. Despite my antipathy toward the music, I am particularly impressed by her technical facility in the title work of this set, which is extremely challenging. In toto, then, an interesting disc, with three of the five pieces (well, make that three and a half, since the oboe writing in Gobo is pretty good) being music worth hearing. The sound quality is uniformly clear and excellent: every crash, bang, and whine of the electronics is as clear as a bell (just kidding, but you get what I mean).

FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
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Works on This Recording

The Wildflower by Jenni Brandon
Performer:  Kristin Wolfe-Jensen (Bassoon), Rebecca Henderson (Oboe), Robert Freeman (Piano)
Written: 2004 
Gobo by Russell Pinkston
Performer:  Rebecca Henderson (Oboe), Russell Pinkston (Electronics)
Of Nature by Nancy Galbraith
Performer:  Rebekah Heller (Bassoon), Kristin Wolfe-Jensen (Bassoon), Rebecca Henderson (Oboe),
Susan Hatch Tomkiewicz (Oboe), Rose Taylor (Narrator)
Pieces (3) for Flute and Oboe by joseph landers
Performer:  Rebecca Henderson (Oboe), Sheryl Cohen (Flute)

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