Jeremy Lee writes
Tomaso Albinoni (1671-1751) was and still is a pretty neglected Italian Baroque composer. Chances are if you’ve heard any of his works it would be “his” famous Adagio in G minor, the quotation marks as shown because–surprise, surprise–it’s not actually written by Albinoni, but by his musicologist Remo Giazotto. Talk about a musical hoax! That’s like finding out that Pachelbel’s only famous work, the Canon-you-know-what, was actually written by Arnold Schoenberg as a small passacaglic juvenilia. Pachelbel’s going to be doomed.
So, if Albinoni’s so-called pièce de résistance didn’t actually come out of his pen, what’s left of dear Tomaso? We have a large body of operas and concertos, the latter of which are still somewhat popular till this day, if only because they feature in the repertoire of instrumental soloists, chiefly oboists. The works featured here in this album of oboe concertos, the second installment in Anthony Camden et al’s Albinoni Oboe Concertos project for Naxos, do not strike you with the poise or forward-thinking style of a D. Scarlatti, nor are they as contrapuntally enriching as a J. S. Bach, but they join François Couperin’s keyboard works and Vivaldi’s Two Mandolin Concerto as a few of the most charming non-German Baroque works ever to have graced my ear.
Albinoni wrote very frequently for the oboe and was one of the first composers ever to employ this pungent-sounding woodwind instrument as a solo instrument. His writing for the oboe as can be heard here exemplifies his mastery in writing for the instrument: they do not show off the oboist’s facility dazzling fashion as with Vivaldi’s oboe concertos; rather, the oboe’s role in the piece is comparable to that of the trumpeter in Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 or the first violin in No. 3–a sort of concerto for oboe with orchestra rather than a concerto for oboe solo and orchestra. Sure, the oboe part is highlighted, but still given more or less a similar weight as the orchestra. And yet how Albinoni manipulates the distinctive oboe sound so that the lines can float out from the orchestra in a soloistic way for maximum expressive effect only shows his compositional and melodic genius–the latter skill surely enhanced by his experience of writing some fifty-plus operas and cantatas. Tell me where you have heard such poignant Adagios in the Op. 7 No. 2 and No. 3 concertos!
Charm features quite a bit in Albinoni’s works too. The work that did it for me here was the first movement of the Sinfonia for Two Oboes in G Major, an undeservedly neglected gem that really deserves to be dug out and played more often. The tune in the violins that opens the movement is irresistible enough, but just hear what Albinoni does to the theme as played by the two oboes in their first entrance! It never fails to make me wear a wide grin. Then we have the Op. 7 No. 8 Double Oboe Concerto, a work in the mold of the Sinfonia that isn’t really as charming, but never less pleasant to hear.
That said, we can’t let Albinoni’s compositional geniuses speak for themselves, and thank God we have a team here that truly does this lovely music justice. Oboists Anthony Camden, ex-principal oboist at the LSO and former Dean of Music at the Hong Kong Academy of Performing Arts, and Alison Alty, oboist at the LPO and Royal PO, do themselves proud with their wonderfully intimate musicianship and technique and beautiful tone, and kudos too to The London Virtuosi under John Georgiadis who accompany these two distinguished soloists with maximum conviction and flair. The well-balanced sonics are warm and natural and one of Naxos’ best efforts. Chalk these qualities up to a rewarding release that, besides being a masterly effort for all concerned, is also perfect for listeners seeking to add something new to their musical palate.
- Album name: Albinoni: Oboe Concerti Vol. 2
- Performers: Anthony Camden; Alison Alty (oboes); John Georgiadis (conductor); The London Virtuosi
- Label: Naxos 8.553002
- Sonics: Stereo DDD
- Total playing time: 58:27