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Hyperion Records

CDA66267 - Bach & Telemann: Oboe & Oboe d'amore Concertos

Recording details: June 1987
St Paul's Church, New Southgate, London, United Kingdom
Produced by Mark Brown
Engineered by Antony Howell
Release date: April 1988
Total duration: 58 minutes 47 seconds

‘Sheer delight’ (BBC Record Review)

‘These are winning performances, with recording to match’ (Fanfare, USA)

'A winner all the way … exemplary from start to finish’ x (Hi-Fi News)

Bach & Telemann: Oboe & Oboe d'amore Concertos
[Allegro]  [8'11]
Siciliano  [5'55]
Allegro  [6'03]
Adagio  [1'39]
Allegro  [3'02]
Adagio  [1'02]
Allegro  [1'59]
Introduction  EnglishFrançaisDeutsch
Bach’s own revisions and recycling of his music during his lifetime are well known, as is the fact that a considerable quantity of his output did not survive to our age. For a composer who so favoured the oboe and oboe d’amore (providing the instruments with some of his finest obbligato parts in the cantatas, oratorios and masses), it is perhaps surprising that none of Bach’s surviving concertos include works for either instrument. But indeed, setting aside the six Brandenburg concertos (dating from between 1711 and 1721), only three concertos survive from this his most fertile period for orchestral compositions. Most of his later concertos (principally the thirteen concertos for one to four harpsichords) are known to be reworkings of earlier works, and therefore from these we can return, in some cases with extreme accuracy, to the earlier form. The two oboe concertos recorded here therefore reverse Bach’s process, reconstructing the original works from their later extant versions.

For the reconstruction of the F major oboe concerto we have to turn to two cantatas and a harpsichord concerto. The harpsichord concerto in E major (BWV1053) is generally regarded to be a reworking of an earlier oboe or violin concerto, and thought to have been recomposed between 1735 and 1740. But between the original concerto and its later harpsichord version Bach also used the first two movements (but in D major) of the original concerto for the cantata Gott soll allein (BWV169), and the last movement in the cantata Ich geh’ und suche mit Verlangen (BWV49), this time in E major. Both these cantatas probably date from 1726. Armed therefore with two separate sources for each movement (and no definitive key) it is possible to attempt a reconstruction of the original concerto.

For the first movement the opening Sinfonia to Cantata 169 appears to be the purest source, since the right hand of the solo organ part can be transcribed for the new solo instrument whereas the later harpsichord concerto is full of additional keyboard figurations. In the second movement, a Siciliano eminently suited to the oboe, Bach shortens the harpsichord version by eight bars, missing out a ritornello (and introducing a sudden harmonic shift), though he had included this section in the cantata, where the singer might well have needed to take a breath. The version recorded here grants the soloist that respite too. For the last movement the Cantata 49 version is used as the principal reference, though the harpsichord version is turned to at two points, substituting an unidiomatic repeated note with the harpsichord’s trill, and filling in the oboe’s line at two sparsely scored bars with the harpsichord’s added concerto part.

The A major concerto for harpsichord was recognized by Sir Donald Tovey as early as 1936 as being suited exactly to the range and musical capabilities of the oboe d’amore if the extra keyboard figurations were removed. Once transcribed, the work explores the d’amore’s various tessituras to great advantage, from the very first entry on the instrument’s lowest note through to the extended passages at the top of the register in the last movement (marked Allegro ma non tanto). More recent research into the manuscript of the harpsichord concerto shows clearly how the original melodic line was embellished to produce the characteristic harpsichord figurations. Although there must of course be occasional doubts, mostly in the first movement, regarding exact readings of the original solo part, this reconstruction (based largely on that in the Neue Bach-Ausgabe) can probably be considered to match closely Bach’s original concerto.

Telemann, on the other hand, did not let his music miss any opportunity for publication or performance. Whether in his official function as Kantor, as a promoter and organizer of concerts, or as a publisher of his own music and treatises, Telemann promoted himself and all his considerable musical activities to his utmost. His sound commercial instincts brought him much wealth and success and if we return to the information from the time, it was Telemann, and not Bach, who was considered to be the predominant figure in musical Germany.

The period of twenty years from 1720 saw a rapid growth in the spread of amateur music-making and Telemann helped to accelerate this process by writing and publishing a great quantity of instrumental music. Music publishing was very much in its infancy in Germany, and Telemann, as he said in his autobiography (published when he was only thirty-seven), seized the chance to build up his fortune. It must be said that in the process of becoming wealthy, Telemann did also provide a valuable source of publications for his fellow musicians, and for later generations.

Telemann’s philosophy for publishing music was soundly commercial: ‘A piece which has witchery in its pages, and contains many hard passages, is a burden to perform and often causes grimaces. I say further: he who can be useful to many does better than he who writes for only a few. What is easy serves everyone, so it will be best to stay with that.’ Perhaps these guidelines were the reason for the non-publication of both the concertos recorded here, for while they contain many trademarks of the popular Telemann (he was described by Rolland as having let in ‘currents of fresh air’), they both contain passages which require a player of considerable virtuosity.

The concerto in D minor for oboe appears in a manuscript now in the Dresden Sachslandesbibliothek, with a set of parts also to be found in the Darmstadt Hochschulbibliothek. Of significance are the different types of articulation that Telemann specifies, with the same phrase often treated to several types of phrasing within a short space of time. His inventive treatment of texture shows itself in the first movement, where the oboe’s plaintive melody is accompanied by a mixture of duplets, triplets and quadruplets. The six bars of the short third movement contain, alongside some very beautiful writing, one harmonic shift which must qualify as one of the most remarkable of the period. The final movement is notable too for testing the soloist’s virtuosity in passages requiring nimble playing.

The concerto in G for oboe d’amore is very much a ‘hunting’ concerto, and one which also, with its rapid changes of mood and character, looks forward to the classical style. The manuscript, from the Darmstadt library, again contains a wide variety of different articulations for the player (especially in the treatment of the opening horn-call in the final movement). Alongside the cantabile opening section and the slow third movement (where the melody is given a typical Telemann accompaniment of detached string chords over a walking bass), comes writing of great character and flair, well worthy of Rolland’s accolade.

Robert King © 1988

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