With the harp at its centre the opening concert of the Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival was a rare treat

‘Nicholas Daniel and Charles Owen performed Poulenc’s Oboe Sonata, the composer’s last major work. Daniel’s unaccompanied opening phrase was rather eerie, then the two launched into Poulenc’s bitter-sweet lyrical melancholy, with beautifully mellow tone from Daniel. The movement was full of quick changes of emotion, with darker moments, and the performers achieved a real sense of intimacy. The size and the acoustics of the Marble Hall make it ideal for this type of music. The faster second movement (unusually the sonata is arranged slow-fast-slow) was perky and wonderfully characterful with some terrific playing from Daniel and Owen who both created something nicely throw-away about the music. A more lyrical bitter-sweet middle section alternated passages of great transparency with moments of intense power. The slower final movement had long oboe lines over piano chords, rather melancholy and evocative, and en ending which seemed unresolved and harmonically adrift. In his spoken introduction to the piece Daniel suggested that in the movement Poulenc pre-figures his own death, and in fact the composer never heard the full sonata.

Robert Hugill

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