A Tribute To Janet – chamber music with oboe and cor anglais by Mozart, Britten, Knussen and J. Françaix – Nicholas Daniel, Britten Oboe Quartet; Harmonia Mundi CD

Nicholas Daniel, the founder of the Britten Oboe Quartet (2005) and oboe and cor anglais soloist, formed a close musical friendship with his teacher Janet Craxton, the dedicatee of this recording. A tireless championing of contemporary music was the particular mark of this masterful oboist, who died so young. She premiered two of the works on this disc (amongst others), Oliver Knussen’s Cantata op.15 and the Quartet for cor anglais, violin, viola and cello by Jean Françaix, with the London Oboe Quartet.

Britten’s teenaged Phantasy op.2 for oboe, violin, viola and cello, like Mozart’s oboe quartet K.370, also on this disc, form the core repertoire of this group. Mozart’s Adagio in C K580a (the tune of the introduction appears again in the famous motet Ave verum corpus K618), a fragment completed by Nicholas Daniel, completes a demanding and varied programme. It has become the motto of this ensemble regularly to perform and record works for oboe, violin, viola and cello written in the last 250 years and to expand the repertoire with new commissions.

Soloist Nicholas Daniel, who must have worked with great artists such as Rostropovich, Carter, Dutilleux, Lutos?awski or Knussen, is a virtuosic exponent of his instrument. He takes the oboe from jubilant song to wistful lamentation in a moment. Mozart’s oboe quartet provides so many different moods, extravagant coloratura lines and the greatest possible atmospheric contrasts.

But it’s the outrageous, energetically accented forward-thrusting Phantasy of the youthful genius Britten, with its Stravinskian tonal language, Oliver Knussen’s complex and colourful Cantata (my favourite track on the disc) and the neo-classical quartet by Jean Françaix which offer the greatest opportunity for these outstanding artists to demonstrate impressive dynamic contrast and the most eloquent musicianship as they play together with such rhythmic and tonal finesse. Sensationalism is unknown to this English ensemble, and allows the music to speak for itself without distracting interpretational ideas.

Jaquesline Shave (violin), Clare Finnimore (viola) and Caroline Dearnley (cello) are partners with the same level of musicianship as Nicholas Daniel.

Dr Ingobert Waltenberger, Der Neue Merker, August 2017

Read this review online (in German)