‘Overheard – New Music for Oboe and English Horn’ = Michele Fiala – MSR Classics

by | Mar 2, 2012 | Classical CD Reviews

‘Overheard – New Music for Oboe and English Horn’ = ALYSSA MORRIS: Four Personalities for Oboe and Piano; SUSAN KANDER: Postcards from America for Oboe and Piano; GILLES SILVESTRINI: Three Duos for Two Oboes; BEVERLY LEWIS: Fundy Temperaments for English horn and piano; THERESA MARTIN: Peaches at Midnight for Oboe and Piano; ERIN GOAD: Overheard on a Salt Marsh for Oboe, English horn and Piano; Mark W. PHILLIPS: Elegy and Honk for English horn and Electroacoustic Music – Michele Fiala, oboe & English horn /Martin Schuring, oboe/ William Averill, piano/ Donald Speer, piano – MSR Classics MS 1403, (Distr. by Albany), 74:03 ****:
Some of the most interesting music for double reeds, oboe in particular, has been written over the past fifty to one hundred years. There is certainly a rich tradition of oboe artistry as the orchestral timbre of choice going back to the Baroque. There have also been some wonderful works written by the English romantics of the post-Elgar era. This collection showcases quite well the variety and quality of new music being written for oboe and English horn and their appreciable expressive qualities.
First, the performances on this disc are wonderful! Michele Fiala is an international artist having performed with a number of symphony orchestras and in an impressive array of solo recital venues. She has beautiful tone and a very expressive range of color and ample fluid technique.  She is joined on the Silvestrini and Goad works by Martin Schuring of Arizona State University, who was also one of Fiala’s teachers throughout her doctoral studies. Schuring has a similar international reputation and an impressive recording and authorship resume. Pianists William Averill and Donald Speer are also amazing musicians who achieve an ideal blend of accompaniment skills as well as individual showmanship where needed. The performances in this collection are a strong reason for hearing this disc!  The music, itself, is also wholly compelling.
Alyssa Martin take her inspiration for Four Personalities from the Hartman Personality Profile and are titled and “profiled” accordingly as Yellow (fun loving), White (peacekeeper), Blue (service, loyalty) and Red (power, aggressive, assertive). The music is great fun to listen to and does, indeed, have a sense of the appropriate mood in each movement.
Postcards from America by Susan Kander is a very clever work that also seeks its inspiration from feelings. In this case, the thoughts expressed are from imaginary postcards from various American landmarks as seen for the first time by an immigrant and relayed to his wife. These postcards are read by the performer at the beginning of each movement. However, rather than a work which is in any way a patriotic tour, the music depicts what sense of the unreal or the imposing or even a little frightening a person who has never seen New York before must feel. This is a most interesting work, is quite effective and to Kander’s credit, does avoid any traps of clichéd writing.
Gilles Silvestrini’s Three Duos for two oboes is a kinetic and exciting little work that takes its inspiration from three paintings by well known French Impressionists. These Duos are also a reworking of Silvestrini’s  Six Etudes for Oboe.  The paintings depicted—in mood; not in image—are by Boudin, Monet and Manet. I enjoyed this piece a great deal for the simple pleasure of hearing Ms. Fiala and Martin Schuring play the most spritely and technically-demanding passages so flawlessly.
Fundy Temperaments for English horn and piano by Beverly Lewis is, in its own way, a very impressionistic work, based on the composer’s impressions of the Bay of Fundy on the coast of New Brunswick where she grew up. There is also a very brief but effective quote from the English maritime hymn, “For those in peril on the sea.”  This is a fascinating work and the use English horn as the primary timbre seems to enhance the feel of the awesome but dangerous seas.
The inspiration for Theresa Martin’s Peaches at Midnight is, quite literally, her young son getting up at midnight once asking if he could have some peaches. The composer creates a very pleasant musical vignette with a playfulness to it and also a “mirror” structure in which the work opens and closes with music intended to depict sleepiness. This is very enjoyable!
The theme to this album does seem to be one of imagery. Erin Goad’s Overheard on a Saltmarsh for oboe, English horn and piano takes its title from a poem of the same title by Harold Monro. The conversation alluded to in the title is between a nymph and a goblin debating who gets to possess “green glass beads” which, in the poem, could be dew drops on reeds or could be stars seen through fog. Regardless, the music is beautiful and picturesque.
The most unusual work here is the closing Elegy and Honk for English horn and “electroacoustic” pre-recorded sounds by Mark W. Phillips. In this case, the recording uses processed English horn as well as some ducks and geese; even an old-fashioned bicycle horn. As the title implies, there is a very eery elegiac opening and a very raucous, honking element to the two sections. This is a strangely effective work and I liked it!
As I said, there is some terrific playing in this collection. Michele Fiala and her colleagues are all very skilled players who bring emotion and verve to their performances.  The music is so interesting too, though. I was particularly fond of the Silvestrini, Lewis and Goad works but all of these pieces are very good and make terrific additions to the oboe and English horn repertory. I think double reed enthusiasts would love this album but there is something for everyone. Highly recommended!
—Daniel Coombs

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