As well as being a successful soloist and an orchestral and chamber musician, James Turnbull also busies himself with education and outreach projects, rediscovering lost repertoire and commissioning new works for the oboe.
His latest venture, a disc of nine world premiere recordings by composers including Tansy Davies, Michael Berkeley and James Macmillan, aims to ‘challenge perception of the instrument by demonstrating great contrasts possible on the modern oboe’ – and this it does, presenting the listener with a varied spectrum of sounds from the lowest visceral honking to the highest mouse-like squeaks.
The disc opens with Davies’ Forgotten Game, a sparse and desolate piece for oboe and piano that begins with a wistful bird’s call. You can hear the keys clattering against the body of the instrument, which adds to the pared down, raw effect.
John Woolrich’s The Kingdom of Dreams, a set of four short movements based on paintings by Swiss-German artist Paul Klee, is despatched with delicate and contemplative subtlety, further enhanced by Huw Watkins’ excellent piano playing. Berkeley’s Fierce Tears I and II, which inspire the title of the album, are as chaotic and unsettling as their names suggest.
But Turnbull really comes into his own in the works for solo oboe. MacMillan’s In Angustiis II is haunting, and the dynamic and stylistic contrasts in Peter Maxwell Davies’ First Grace of Light are conveyed with admirable poise and commitment.