‘An impressive tribute from oboist Nicholas Daniel to his teacher.’

Anyone who wants to hear something new from the British chamber music scene will be excited about this Harmonia Mundi release. This tribute to the oboist and teacher Janet Craxton, who died in 1981, contains some of the most diverse music, played by the British Oboe Quartet which was founded in 2005 and in which her student Nicholas Daniel is joined by three string players.

Craxton was a pioneer, both literally and figuratively. She also commissioned music from composers who were her contemporaries. The ways in which her playing and style inspired them is shown in two works particularly: Oliver Knussen’s Cantata of 1977, and the Quator pour cor anglais, violin, alto et violoncelle by Jean Françaix, of seven years earlier.

The latter five-movement work is a delightfully rhythmic, sometimes playful and dancing work, bubbling with neoclassical spirit. Not easy to play; but so very soothing to the ear. Nicholas Daniel and his colleagues Jacqueline Shave, violin, Clare Finnimore, viola, and Caroline Dearnley, cello, are all perfectly matched. For the sake of clarity, the cor anglais is not a horn from England but a deeper alto oboe.

Youthful work
The multi-layered Knussen is less accessible but worth the effort, certainly in this energetic, attractively paced version. As far as instrument control, interplay and especially expression go, this is first rate. The musicians sound as if they’re having a great time.

The Phantasy opus 2, a youthful work by Benjamin Britten, holds the attention from beginning to end. The structure of the first march theme is beautifully done. The mysterious atmosphere is also perfectly conveyed. The composer regularly allows the soloist to rest, in accordance with the wishes of the first performer, Léon Goossens.

And as for the Oboe Quartet in F, KV 370 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart? I really do not know of any other version that is so decisive and has such charisma. Especially the singing of the long lines of the middle movement which move the listener in every way. The Allegro distinguishes itself with its vibrant spirit and subtle rubato (sometimes the changes in tempo are barely noticeable).

The opening of the unfinished Adagio KV 580a was later reused by Mozart in the first bars of the famous motet Ave Verum Corpus KV 618. Daniel has completed it and the result is an expressive and melancholic miniature that’s definitely not only good for an encore. The cor anglais blends perfectly with the (low) strings. Janet would have been proud.

Maarten-Jan Dongelmans, De Gelderlander

Read this review online (in Dutch)