This programme has been cleverly crafted around the world premiere recording of Sir James MacMillan’s Oboe Concerto performed by its dedicatee Nicholas Daniel with the composer at the helm. It is a bold virtuosic work that should prove popular with both players and audiences.
The breezy first movement, a bustling affair with the soloist goaded on to challenging passage-work by startling effects in the orchestra, contrasts starkly with the following Largo based on material from a earlier composition In Angustiis (a post-9/11 lament for solo oboe). It juxtaposes periods of keening sorrow with outbursts of rage, while stretching the expressive possibilities of the instrument just about as far as it can go.
The Finale is forthright and playful, opening with a demented parody of serialist pretensions before veering off in unexpected poly-stylistic directions – although some of its jokes are a little too wacky for its own good.
The disc opens with Vaughan William’s pastoral idyll with the soloist directing a performance that should serve as a top recommendation for this under-recorded gem. The Britten Sinfonia’s limpid strings conjure moments of heart-stopping beauty such as the hushed rapture at the close of the first movement. Daniel’s slender but focused tone is quintessentially British and his soaring phrases linger long in the mind. MacMillan’s 2012 brief One for chamber orchestra provides an apt interlude between the two concerti.
The final work is a corker; Britten’s Suite on English Folk Tunes A Time There Was in a performance that reveals the true stature of the work. Late in his career while blighted with illness Britten managed to transmogrify ten folk tunes into a suite of timeless beauty that bursts free of its parochial milieu. The work recalls the bold internationalist composer of Sinfonia da Requiem or the Violin Concerto before he retreated to the safety of Aldeburgh.
MacMillan and the crack band achieve such precise balances and crisp articulation that we hear every detail of the remarkable orchestration; its economy and specific weight conveyed with clarity and transparency. For the final melancholy tune Lord Melbourne Nicholas Daniel takes up the cor anglais to bring the programme full circle with gentle eloquence.
The recording is marvellously vivid and present with the fine acoustic of St. John’s Smith Square providing just enough bloom. Intelligent and unpretentious programme notes within Harmonia Mundi’s stylish and entriely appropriate artwork completes a highly desirable package.