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Concertos & Sinfonias for Oboe

4.8 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews

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Audio CD, July 19, 2011
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Johann Sebastian Bach relied on the oboe to voice some of the most exquisite instrumental passages in his cantatas and orchestral works, these solo parts adding up to what Heinz Holliger terms a "miraculous wealth" of music for the oboe. Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis - the latest ECM New Series release by Holliger, one of the world's consummate oboists for five decades now, as well as a prize-winning composer and conductor - presents a collection of this music drawn from the sinfonia introductions to several sacred cantatas, the sinfonia from the Easter Oratorio and versions of three Bach concertos made for oboe, strings and continuo. These include the sublime Double Concerto for Violin and Oboe, with the solo violin part played by Erich Höbarth, who also directs the Camerata Bern throughout the album. Also included is Alessandro Marcello's Oboe Concerto in D minor, a piece Bach appreciated enough to rework for solo harpsichord.

Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis translates as "I Was Much Beset by Care," which reflects the recording's deeply felt emotional content and the intense intimacy of the performances. Holliger has dedicated the album to his late brother Erich Holliger, who passed away the summer before the December 2010 sessions, and to his friend Gabriel Bürgin, who died just as recording began. The title is drawn from Bach's cantata Ich hatte viel Bekümmernis (BWV 21), the largest of his sacred cantatas and a journey from the dark of grief to the light of hope, written for the death of a young prince, one of Bach's favorite pupils. Bach also performed the cantata later after the sudden death of his first wife. This cantata's sinfonia is a wondrous creation full of sighing chromatic melody for the solo oboe, garlanded by violins. Holliger - who has written his own liner notes for the album, detailing the often complicated provenance of the various pieces - describes Bach's oboe sinfonias as "among the towering masterpieces of the entire repertoire for the instrument."

Another of these masterpieces for oboe is the sinfonia to the cantata Weinen, Klagen, Sorgen, Zagen ("Weeping, lamenting, worrying, fearing"), BWV 12. Holliger characterizes this deeply affecting sinfonia as "a winding, broadly arched dirge," its long lines marked by bold harmonies and a heart-stopping fermata. Also included is the adagio introduction to Part II of the Easter Oratorio, a B minor sinfonia in which the richly ornamented melody of the oboe "floats almost weightlessly" above an ostinato sarabande played by the strings. The album's other oboe sinfonia - a consoling, aria-like adagio taken from the cantata Ich steh' mit einem Fuss im Grabe ("I stand with one foot in the grave") - serves as the slow movement for Holliger's version of the Oboe Concerto in D minor, BWV 1059. Many listeners likely know this music from its place as the slow movement to Bach's Harpsichord Concerto in F minor; the composer - an enthusiastic arranger of his music and that of others - borrowed it from its original place in the cantata.

None of Bach's original concertos for oboe survived what Holliger calls, quoting Hegel, the "fury of disappearance." Yet all of the composer's harpsichord concertos and many of his cantata movements and organ trio sonatas originated in his early concertos and chamber music for wind instruments or violin. Scholars have since reconstructed, as Holliger puts it, "the putative shape of this lost repertoire," making versions of the music that satisfy contemporary standards of authenticity. The best known of all Bach's "recovered" concertos is the Double Concerto for Violin and Oboe, BWV 1060. (It is often played in D minor, but Holliger finds C minor more persuasively idiomatic.) The oboist has often pointed out the ways in which Bach's music pushes the physical possibilities of a performer to the limit, particularly in terms of breathing for wind players. Yet in this work of life-affirming beauty, Holliger matches violinist Erich Höbarth in dialogue that is glorious, poignant and thrilling by turns, the oboist's tone a blend of lightness and warmth that has become justly iconic.

The album's other Bach concerto is BWV 1055, the A Major Concerto for Oboe d'amore, the instrument Holliger calls the oboe's "deeper, gentler companion." This recording is his third of the work, after a first in 1965 and the second in 1982. Gramophone magazine lauded Holliger's playing of the Larghetto in BWV 1055 on his '80s Philips recording as "deeply searching," but this latest performance for ECM could scarcely be more poetically phrased, with the subtlest degrees of light and shade. The famous Marcello concerto is an ever-popular Italian Baroque gem and another piece that Holliger has recorded multiple times; there are reasons for this, including a central Adagio that sees the oboe sing a long-breathed aria of almost heartbreaking poise over the dramatic pulse of the strings.

In Höbarth and the players of Switzerland's Camerata Bern, the 72-year-old Holliger has an ideally sympathetic team; the group's balance of a rich sound with fluent tempi and general dynamism reflects contemporary views of music the oboist has approached repeatedly over decades of changing tastes. In his liner essay, Holliger refers to the inspiration in Bach's oboe writing as "virtually inexhaustible." Something similar could be said about this veteran oboist's musicianship and his ability to commune with the transcendent and timeless in art.

About the Artist

Heinz Holliger was born in 1939 in Langenthal, Switzerland, in the canton of Bern. He studied composition with Sándor Veress and Pierre Boulez. He took first prize for oboe at the Geneva International Music Competition in 1959, eventually becoming one of the world's most esteemed oboists; composers who have written works for him include Frank Martin, Olivier Messiaen, Witold Lutoslawski, Luciano Berio, Karlheinz Stockhausen, Elliott Carter, Hans Werner Henze, Krzysztof Penderecki and Isang Yun. Holliger was also instrumental in the rediscovery of works by 18th-century composers Zelenka and Lebrun. As a composer, Holliger's oeuvre covers genres from orchestral, solo and chamber music to stage works and vocal pieces; he has won many prizes, from the Siemens Music Award in 1991 to the first Zurich Festival Award in 2007. Many of his compositions have been recorded by ECM, including Lieder ohne Worte (2000), Scardanelli-Zyklus (vocal works after Hölderlin, 2000), the opera Schneewittchen (Snow White, 2001), Violinkonzert (2004) and Romancendres (2009). As a conductor, he recorded an ECM album of Bernd Alois Zimmermann's music titled Canto di speranza, in addition to leading recordings of his own works. As an oboist, he has recorded music for ECM by the likes of Zelenka, Schumann, Veress, Carter and Isang Yun.
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Product Details

  • Orchestra: Camerata Bern
  • Conductor: Erich Höbarth
  • Composer: Johann Sebastian Bach, Alessandro Marcello
  • Audio CD (July 19, 2011)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: ECM Records
  • ASIN: B00518HB9E
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #34,505 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Grady Harp HALL OF FAMETOP 100 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on August 4, 2011
Format: Audio CD
Heinz Holliger certainly needs no introduction, having been the gold standard for oboe performance for decades as well as a man responsible for keeping the lesser known works of Bach in the recording studios. He is not only a baroque specialist but also a conductor and composer. As an oboist many composers (including Olivier Messiaen, Luciano Berio, Elliott Carter, Frank Martin, Hans Werner Henze, Witold Lutos'awski, Karlheinz Stockhausen, and Isang Yun) have written works for him.

This fascinating recording finds Holliger restoring some of the 'oboe concertos' of Bach's day - a time when extended solo parts were accompanied by orchestra and held such an important role that they could be considered mini-concertos. Here Holliger is joined by Erich Höbarth and the Camerata Bern. The works included are the sinfonia introductions to several sacred cantatas, the sinfonia from the Easter Oratorio and versions of three Bach concertos made for oboe, strings and continuo. These include the sublime Double Concerto for Violin and Oboe, with the solo violin part played by Höbarth. In addition to Bach is Alessandro Marcello's Oboe Concerto in D minor, a piece Bach appreciated enough to rework for solo harpsichord.

The quality of the performances is top notch - fresh, precise, informed....and elegant. Highly recommended. Grady Harp, August 11
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I don't review stuff, or use words like Splendid, Sumptuous, or Magnificent.

This left me feeling simply grateful to have found it.

Its beautiful, like Morimur-I-can't-stop-listening-to-it-year-upon-year-beautiful.

Another day redeemed.
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This is a wonderful collection of concertos featuring the hauntingly beautiful sounds of the oboe, played to perfection by the one and only Heinz Holliger. It does not get much better than this. Like a rare, fine wine one should allow these beautiful concertos to swirl around on the palette of your mind and enjoy the captivating "flavor"! Sublimely delicious.
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Gorgeous playing by a master oboist. Hollinger is amazing. He's my dad's age and plays better than any other professional I have ever heard. His timing and command of the music is phenomenal. The only other oboist who comes close is Albrecht Mayer. I'm very glad I bought this CD.
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I was a little bit dubious about this record because of Heinz Holliger age but in this special case I have to admit that mr Holliger is playing as always with his sense of line an a perfect intonation with a way of expressing that is more free than before so do not hesitate to buy this excellent record.
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It is hard to believe that Heinz Holliger is now more than 70 years old. The grace and dance like grace he brings to this wonderful disc is that of a young man. This record is delightful, and extremely well recorded. Very highly recommended - it will bring a spring to your step.
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