Lost and Found (CD review)

Albrecht Mayer, oboe and English horn. Kammerakademie Potsdam. DG 479 2942.

As oboe virtuoso Albrecht Mayer explains, "the oboe was omnipresent in the musical life of Mozart's day. There were countless outstanding wind players who were active in Austria and Bohemia during the second half of the 18th century, with the result that many of the composers associated with Viennese Classicism wrote concertos for the oboe, most of them musicians whose names have fallen into near or total oblivion." Thus, the theme of the present album, in which Mr. Mayer and the Chamber Academy of Potsdam play four wind concertos for oboe or English horn from composers most of us have never heard of: Lost and now found. The concertos are pleasant, to be sure, and obviously well played, but there is usually a reason why some music loses favor with the public and falls into obscurity.

First up on the program is the Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra in C major by Franz Anton Hoffmeister (1754-1812). Like the other concertos in the set, Hoffmeister's is in a conventional three-movement arrangement: fast, slow, fast. There is a certain Haydn-like charm to the music, which displays ample opportunities for Mayer's oboe to find a sweet, fluid voice, especially in the Adagio.

Albrecht Mayer
Next is the Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra in G minor by Ludwig August Lebrun (1752-1790). Lebrun's work sounds a tad more mature in tone than Hoffmeister's, yet it conveys plenty of enchantment. Schubert was one of Lebrun's many admirers, and if one can see something of Haydn in Hoffmeister, one can also see a bit of Schubert in Lebrun. There are some pleasantly lilting melodies throughout the concerto as well as some fanciful and lighthearted moments. For me it was the highlight of the program.

After that we find the Concerto for English Horn and Orchestra in C major by Joseph Fiala (1748-1816). The English horn, the tenor member of the oboe family, makes a nice contrast in this piece to the sound of the oboe in the others. Otherwise, I'm not sure Fiala's concerto is one I'll be returning to very often. While undoubtedly friendly and likeable, with a wonderfully flowing Adagio cantabile, it isn't exactly memorable.

Mayer concludes the program with the Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra in F major by Jan Antonin Kozeluh (1738-1814). With the Kozeluh work, it isn't until we get to the final Rondo that we get anything worthy of being rediscovered. Here, we find a lovely, catchy tune that bounces along in good cheer.

Mayer's playing is exemplary. He is always spot on and never tries to overshadow his accompaniment. And that accompaniment from the Potsdam Chamber Orchestra conducted by Mayer is also spot on: precise, sympathetic, always right with Mayer as though a single instrument at the soloist-leader's disposal.

Recording producer Christoph Franke and engineer Martin Eichberg made the album at Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin-Dahlem, in January 2013. We get full, rich sound from the orchestra and a realistic presence from the oboe and English horn. Dimensionality could be better, though; there's not a lot of depth to the ensemble nor much air around the instruments. Fortunately, the engineers have recorded Mayer's solo parts at a moderate enough distance that he doesn't completely dominate the show by being too close up. Overall, it's smooth, well-balanced sound, with a modest degree of transparency and makes for easy listening.

JJP

To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

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It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa