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SACD Review

20th-Century Oboe Works

  • Richard Strauss: Concerto for Oboe & Small Orchestra
  • Nikos Skalkottas: Concertino for Oboe & Chamber Orchestra
  • Kalevi Aho: 7 Inventions with Postlude for Oboe & Cello
Yeon-Hee Kwak, oboe
David Pia, cello
Bavarian Radio Orchestra/Johannes Goritzki
Dabrinhaus & Grimm MDG9031598-6 52min Hybriad Multichannel SACD
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What do these three 20th-century composers have in common? Not much really, except that all three are connected to 1949. Both Strauss and Skalkottas died in that year, while Aho was born in that same year. Special circumstances occasionally produce special works, and so is the case of the Richard Strauss oboe concerto. This work was in fact written for an American soldier from Pittsburgh serving in Germany after World War II who also played the oboe, and it was only a chance meeting between the two that inspired the composer to write the piece. The environment was one of great sadness and desperation, and Strauss was thoroughly sucked up in this vortex of hopelessness, but somehow, this most successful composer of his time produced a sparklingly bright piece full of airy lightness and wit that has remained a concert favourite with oboists and audiences alike.

The music of Nikos Skalkottas is only now revealing itself as a genuine discovery and this giant from Greece is at last on the way to establishing himself as one of Europe's foremost atonal composers. No great surprise as Skalkottas was one of Schoenberg's outstanding pupils. His concertino is a short but impressive creation that combines joy of performance and burlesque wit with folkloristic rhythm. This impressive little showpiece also strikes a balance between exciting cascades and tenderly felt moods.

Kalevi Aho's "Seven Inventions" are a shining gem which took a long while to gestate (some 12 years, 1986 to 1998). Small in form but eloquent in expression, it is a truly fascinating work, where the Finnish composer combines the baroque with the modern, and where the colourful dialogue between the two soloists conjures up the score's many cosmological references.

Yeon-Hee Kwak has been making a name for herself in this type of repertoire, and these interpretations are elegant, fine-toned and, where necessary, splendidly poetic. The Strauss piece, in particular, is delivered with sparkling aplomb and impressive virtuosity. David Pia (in the Aho Inventions) and Johannes Goritzki and his Bavarian forces lend sympathetic support throughout. The Hybrid-SACD sound is an absolute peach, while notes and presentation are in the best MD&G tradition to which we have been regaled for years on end.

Copyright © 2012 by Gerald Fenech.