Reviewed by Richard Whitehouse
James Turnbull’s survey of new British music for oboe.
New music for oboe has not been lacking in Britain over the past three decades and James Turnbull’s recital makes for a welcome conspectus. Only two works feature the instrument unaccompanied but Peter Maxwell Davies’s piece is among his deftest and most affecting miniatures, while James MacMillan’s 11-minute solo is an eloquent memorial to the dead of 9/11 that takes the oboe to its limit both technically and expressively. Colin Matthews offers a haunting nocturne, while John Woolrich contributes a resourceful suite of miniatures inspired by Paul Klee paintings – at its most imaginative in the whimsical asides of ‘Tale à la Hoffman’ – with a transcription of his own song ‘The Turkish Mouse’ a sequel (in the context of the recital) of nonchalant poise. Tansy Davies is represented here by a pair of substantial pieces that view the oboe from two wholly different perspectives. Arabescos emerges slowly in terms of its emotional impact and also its dialogue with the piano, while Forgotten Game (2) focuses on a restricted range of notes and rhythms as these instruments attempt to outwit each other in a witty and inscrutable process. Of the Michael Berkeley pieces, the Fierce Tears brace pays homage to oboist Janet Craxton and – more restrained yet no less intense in manner – the composer’s father. Huw Watkins is a model accompanist, with Claire Jones equally committed in the other-worldly Second Still Life. A notable debut for Turnbull, who also contributes an informative note and has been well recorded.