Francis Leleux, oboe – RICHARD STRAUSS. Oboe Concerto, Op. 144; Serenade for 13 Wind Instruments, Op. 7; Suite for 13 Wind Instruments, Op. 4 – Francois Leleux, oboe – Swedish Radio Symphony Orchestra/Daniel Harding – Ensemble Bastille – Sony/BMG 88697748692, 56:59 ****:
Upon hearing his son’s music, the great horn player and father of Richard Strauss, Franz, blurted out, “Good God, what horrible music. It makes me feel as though my pants were full of bugs.” Franz was probably talking about Strauss’s programmatic tone poems, which in their day were very innovative and shocking. Certainly Franz wasn’t referring to his son’s compositions on this disc – the absolute music of his early and late works – the two early wind serenades and the great Oboe Concerto.
The exquisitely beautiful Oboe Concerto of 1945 has an interesting back story. At the end of World War II, the Americans occupied the town of Garmish in Bavaria, where Strauss was living. Alfred Mann, the future musicologist and refugee of the Third Reich, visited Strauss often. One day he brought the future oboist of the Philadelphia orchestra, John de Lancie, who was stationed there, with him. The oboist asked Strauss if he ever thought of writing something for oboe. The composer curtly replied, no, but a few months later wrote the Oboe Concerto. It’s one of those great autumnal works that the 81 year old composer penned in the last years of his life. It’s a sunny and joyful 24-minute composition with a sublime andante that could break your heart. Oboist Francois Leleux and the Swedish Radio Symphony play beautifully, but the live recording is a bit bright.
The Serenade for Winds, Op. 7 was composed by Strauss in 1882 when he was 18 years old. Although he admitted it was “nothing more than a conservatoire piece,” his teacher Hans von Bulow was impressed. It has drama, felicitous melodies, and a touch of youthful optimism. The Suite for Winds, Op. 4, was written at the bequest of von Bulow in the form of the Baroque suite – for the Romantic era. Notable are the stately and dignified Prelude, a lyrical Romanza, a whimsical Gavotte and an epic Introduction and Fugue. These are not insignificant works for winds – they’re delightful, substantive and perfect stylistic mates for the later Oboe Concerto. The Ensemble Paris-Bastille play admirably and the studio recording is close and clear. Here’s a chance to add these delightful works to your collection.
— Robert Moon