British Oboe Quintets - Chandos: CHAN 20226 - CD or download | Presto Music

Chandos has been generous in its exploration of British chamber music, not least for the violin and the cello, and here it turns to the more specific allure of the oboe quintet. It teams Nicholas Daniel with the Doric Quartet, a Chandos house ensemble.

The earliest quintet here specifically written for this combination of instruments was that by Bax. As with the works by Finzi and Arthur Bliss it was written for Leon Goossens, who soon recorded it for NGS in 1927 (you can find a transfer on CC2005). Daniel is a past master of coloration and expressive legato, two qualities upon which he draws here to explore the mellifluous beauty of the writing, its folkloric evocation (none of the themes seemingly based on an existing tune) and ensuring that the opening movement ends with requisite delicacy. The Doric do well in the muted second movement and they and Daniel are amongst the most lingering exponents. You need puckish instincts for the finale and here it’s genuinely giocoso. Of other recordings, those of Gordon Hunt and the Tale Quartet on BIS and Sarah Francis and the English String Quartet, Chandos’ earlier version, are very similar in conception but the Nash Ensemble are zestier than any modern ensemble and almost up to Goossens’ own tempi: I wonder if they knew his recording.

Finzi’s beautiful Interlude is hardly new to Daniel who recorded it in its orchestral guise with Vernon Handley and the Bournemouth Symphony on Conifer, and he negotiates its changes of tempo with practised refinement. His elegance is a given but the way he shades his tone in and around the string quartet is still magical. He has also recorded the Bliss Quintet before, a much-admired reading on Naxos made two decades ago with those great ambassadors of British music, the Maggini Quartet. This time around the overall conception is much the same – perhaps there’s a very slightly more relaxed approach to the opening movement but there’s really very little in it. Once again, he plays the finale’s Jig with tremendous verve and authority, as well as a certain whimsicality. If you fancy a tauter approach to the quintet then Gordon Hunt and the Tale offer it on the BIS disc already mentioned.

This leaves two works appropriated for the quintet format. The first is Vaughan Williams’ Six Studies in English Folksong, originally written for cello and piano and dedicated to the important globe-trotting British cellist May Mukle who only seems to have made one 78 disc. Robert Stanton arranged the work for cor anglais (not oboe) and string quartet around 1983, though there have been arrangements for other instrumentation over the years. It’s performed with loving affection. So too are the Two Interludes from Delius’ Fennimore and Gerda in Eric Fenby’s arrangement for oboe and string quartet, dedicated to Goossens and the Fitzwilliam String Quartet. Daniel plays on Goossens’ own oboe on the Delius pieces and he tells the reader in his segment of the booklet notes that he ‘asked it, very respectfully, to bend slightly to my will and taste…’

Talking of taste this is a most assured, instrumentally elevated and expressively rarefied recording. It does full justice to each of the pieces. Alternative recordings also offer much, but none replicates this programme, the foundation stones of which are the Bax and Bliss – though Hunt and the Tale play them both, of course. Potton Hall proves a fine acoustic for the quintets, and I can’t really say a negative word about this disc.

Jonathan Woolf, September 2021

Sir Arnold BAX (1883-1953)
Oboe Quintet (1922) [18:48]
Gerald FINZI (1901-1956)
Interlude, Op 21 (1932-36) [12:50]
Ralph VAUGHAN WILLIAMS (1872-1958)
Six Studies in English Folksong (1926, arr. c.1983 for cor anglais by Robert Stanton) [7:58]
Sir Arthur BLISS (1891-1975)
Oboe Quintet, F21 (1927) [21:56]
Frederick DELIUS (1862-1934)
Two Interludes from Fennimore and Gerda (1908-10, arr. 1977 by Eric Fenby) [5:23]
Nicholas Daniel (oboe, cor anglais)
Doric String Quartet
rec. October 2020, Potton Hall, Dunwich, Suffolk
CHANDOS CHAN20226 [67:31]

Read this review online at Music Web International