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Lamenting Lullaby

English oboe quartets

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Catalogue Number: 5060192781137


Last October I reviewed a programme of British oboe quintets played by Nicholas Daniels and the Doric Quartet featuring works by Bax, Bliss and Finzi, all of which had been commissioned or inspired by the legendary oboist Leon Goossens (Chandos). The very same might be said of this digital-only release of English oboe quartets on which three of the works, by Moeran, Britten and Jacob, were similarly instigated by or dedicated to Goossens. Indeed, it is a reminder not only of Goossens’s extraordinary career as a chamber musician but how, as an individual instrumentalist, he enriched British music with his particular personal blend of French and German techniques. Britten’s Phantasy Quartet, written when the composer was still a 19-year-old RCM student, was the winner of the 1932 Cobbett prize. Still possessing more than a grain of the English pastoral tradition in its modal harmonies and euphonious melodic lines (and one that this particular instrumental genre tends to accentuate), Britten’s persuasive essay, with its imaginative scoring, is given a concise, detailed and admirably nuanced reading by Daniel Bates and his accompanying string trio. After composing a concerto for Goossens in 1933, Gordon Jacob went on to write his Oboe Quartet for him in 1938. More classical in its four short movements, the work has a charming, tender fluency typical of Jacob’s true professionalism, whether in the endearing melodic invention of the first-movement sonata, the gigue-like Scherzo, delicately executed by the whole ensemble, the more introspective melancholy of the Andante semplice or the mischievous élan of the final Rondo. Bates’s lyrical prowess is especially engaging, however, in Moeran’s Fantasy Quartet of 1946, completed in the village of Rockland St Mary in south-east Norfolk. Full of the composer’s synthetic allusions to English folk songs (of which he was an avid collector), the work is surprisingly abrasive in its more angry gesticulations, recalling some of the challenging modernisms of Warlock’s The Curlew (with their dodecaphonic aggregates) and Holst’s polytonal experiments (such as the Terzetto). This most enjoyable reading compares very favourably with those of Nicholas Daniel (ASV, 2/99) and Sarah Francis (Chandos, 2/85, 7/87). Ian Farrington’s Lamenting Lullaby of 2018, from which the recording takes its title, dwells on the grief and tragedy of infant death at childbirth. A haunting threnody or ‘meditation’ (to use the composer’s description), it was largely inspired by the exquisite Fitzrovia Chapel, a surviving gem of the now defunct Middlesex Hospital and its early pioneering maternal facilities, whose internal architecture influenced the spatial dimension of the work’s first performance with its distant ‘offstage’ oboe. (Gramophone)

Track listing
  1. Moeran: Fantasy Quartet for Oboe and Strings
  2. Britten: Phantasy Quartet for Oboe and Strings
  3. Farrington: Lamenting Lullaby for Oboe and Strings
  4. Jacob: Oboe Quartet for Oboe and Strings – I – Allegro moderato
  5. Jacob: Oboe Quartet for Oboe and Strings – II – Scherzo: Allegro moderato
  6. Jacob: Oboe Quartet for Oboe and Strings – III – Andante semplice
  7. Jacob: Oboe Quartet for Oboe and Strings – IV – Rondo: Allegro molto