Related Albums

Lamenting Lullaby

English oboe quartets

Buy NowStream Now

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)

This is a fine collection of English oboe quartets, there of which have a link to early-20th century oboist, Leon Goossens, for whom they were written. It begins with Moeran’s relatively late Fantasy Quartet (1946), an evocative and little known mid-20th century English pastoral, innovative with a modernist twist, picking off various Norfolk folk tunes in its clear-skied, inventive path. It is played with great expression and depth. The players also make fine work of Benjamin Britten’s Phantasy, an early work by contrast, composed in 1932 when Britten was a teenage student at the Royal College of Music. The form was inspired by the requirements of a competition he had recently won, by which entrants had to compose a single-movement fantasy in emulation of those played by 17th-century viol consorts. Britten’s Phantasy for obey and strings is an entirely distinctive work, as he recognised by designating it his Opus 2. Iain Farrington’s Lamenting Lullaby, premiered in 2018 by this ensemble, is a three part elegy of the ‘quiet grief’ after the death of a child at birth. It is moving, deeply tender, exquisitely played by this ensemble, its final warm, folk inflected ensemble flung in to relief by the echoed notes of the lone oboe. Gordon Jacobs lighter 1938 Quartet for Oboe and Strings rounds off this fine programme, continuing the folk echoes where Farrington left oft, nimbly played by the ensemble. (BBC Music)

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