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VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Concerto for oboe and strings in a minor; MACMILLAN: One for chamber orchestra; Oboe Concerto; BRITTEN: Suite on English Folk Tunes: A Time There Was – Nicholas Daniel, oboe/ Britten Sinfonia/James MacMillan – Harmonia mundi

VAUGHAN WILLIAMS: Concerto for oboe and strings in a minor (1944); MACMILLAN: One for chamber orchestra (2012); Oboe Concerto (2010) dedicated to Nicholas Daniel; BRITTEN: Suite on English Folk Tunes: A Time There Was, Op. 90 (1974) – Nicholas Daniel, oboe/ Britten Sinfonia/James MacMillan – Harmonia mundi multichannel SACD HMU807573, 65:57 (4/6/15) ****:

This lovely disc contains two major British oboe concertos featuring soloist Nicholas Daniel with the Britten Sinfonia. Composer James MacMillan also conducts the world premiere recording of his own concerto (dedicated to Nicholas Daniel), as well as his 2012 composition ‘One‘ and the Britten ‘Suite on English Folk Tunes: A Time There Was’.Oboist Daniel also directs the Ralph Vaughan Williams Oboe Concerto, the work with which he won the BBC Young Musician of the Year Competition at the age of 18.

Vaughan Williams had a long and slow building career. After years with little public recognition, the composer became well known after his Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis and his London Symphony. His Concerto for Oboe and Strings is one of his most lovely and ethereal works, with a wonderful interplay between the oboe and the strings. I never tire of hearing it.

Next we get two compositions by James MacMillan, One, and his Oboe Concerto. One is a monody for orchestra where a single line is passed among the instruments, who paint it with different musical colors. From reading the CD notes I was afraid the piece would be a stark contrast to the Vaughan Williams, but in fact it is a good musical match. Likewise, the MacMillan Oboe Concerto is another nice fit with the Vaughan Williams. It is more urgent and rhythmic, with some elements of jazz, but it is a most worthwhile listen.

The disc closes with the more familiar Benjamin Britten Suite on English Folk Tunes. It’s also an energetic piece in places, contemplative in others. The playing of the Britten Sinfonia is at the highest level. Audio-wise, this is a fine recording, with the SACD giving us lovely string sounds and satisfying dynamics. The Sinfonia is nicely spread between the front speakers, while the rear channels provide ambiance that nicely reproduces the recording venue. While the music is mostly sedate, I consider this a demo quality disc for the richness of the sound and the care taken in the recording, done at St. John’s Smith Square in London.

Nicholas Daniel is a talented oboist, and this SACD is highly recommended!

—Mel Martin

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