Or again, returning to the original question (how do you create atmosphere), you get somebody like Judith Weir to write an oboe concerto and ask somebody of the quality of Nicholas Daniel to play it. This 18-minute piece, in which the accompaniment consists of a small body of strings with pairs of flutes, clarinets, bassoons and horns, sits very much in the grand tradition of pastoral writing. The concerto initially teases the ear with short phrases which then grow in expressiveness, a succession of rising scales making the listener feel almost airborne, the solo instrument remaining largely in the foreground throughout the first of the two movements, with the strings playing a mostly supportive role.

It was the second movement that made the strongest impression on me. Beginning ethereally on first and then second violins, Weir writes a soaring melody which takes full advantage of the oboe’s qualities of plangency, and develops a sense of weightlessness. Daniel’s artistry – his elegant phrasing and rich, vibrant tone – gave full expression to the passacaglia-like qualities of the music, frequently tinged with moments of sadness, a feeling of deeper heartache never far away. Contrasts are much stronger in this movement too, with highly effective writing for the orchestra. At one point, before the oboe re-enters, the solo bassoons add touches of earthiness, supported by pizzicato cellos and double basses. In the concluding Scherzo-like section, the oboe engages in skittish exchanges with the orchestra, exuding vitality and purposefulness, while the dance-like rhythms bring the music to a cheerful close. This concerto, here receiving its London premiere, is a very fine addition to the repertory and certainly deserves repeated hearings. The performance was graced by the presence of the composer, as was the case in the opening work by Dean.

Alexander Hall, Classical Source

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