On a release which, for want of a better translation, could easily be called Super Oboe, the Russian oboist Alexei Utkin gives an achingly beautiful, technically dazzling performance of a Mozart program showcasing Russian musicians of virtuosity and amazing physical beauty. The lead piece here, of course, is an odd duck: an arrangement for oboe, violin, 2 violas and cello of the composer’s well-known G minor String Quintet. It is not a totally successful transcription, the original being so much more emotionally devastating with its all-string complement. And yet, anything that gives us an opportunity to hear Utkin in Mozart has got to be a triumph.
Utkin’s tone throughout is so creamily seductive that he might be one of the satyrs of Pan scampering around Bohemian meadows, not to mention the splendid playing by the Hermitage Chamber Orchestra (strings, pairs of oboes and horns, and harpsichord), founded in 2000 by former graduates of the Tchaikovsky Conservatory – of which Utkin is the director.
It’s hard to believe that the recordings were made in a studio (to be precise, the studio of the Russian Television and Radio Broadcasting Company in Moscow) but perhaps that is the beauty of the Super Audio format. The sound has a great sense of space, just the right touch of ambience, which allows Utkin’s rich tone to bloom without overshadowing his colleagues. [What a difference from Soviet-era Russian recordings of yore!…Ed.] Roman Nassonov’s cheerful and engaging liner notes would benefit from a better translation.
– Laurence Vittes