Sunday, April 24, 2016

Tomaso Albinoni: Oboe Concerti

This disc was stumbled upon nearly a quarter century ago when music was still being bought at stores--in this case, the Tower Records in West Covina.  It's not clear why this was bought--Albinoni is hardly a known name.  Maybe it was the idea that these concerti were featuring the oboe, hardly a spotlight instrument.  But, the fact that Albinoni was a baroque composer might have been the allure, given that the style/genre is a favorite of this blogger.

In any case, this Naxos release quickly became a much played disc because of the many beautiful and graceful melodies, smooth and integrated harmonies, and the lilting, gentle and soothing playing of the featured instrument.

With soloists Julia Girdwood and Anthony Camden and the fine ensemble The London Virtuosi, founded by Camden, famed flaustist James Galway and director and violinist John Georgiadis, this is a stunning album and great to rediscover after some years since it was last heard.  It brings back memories of the many pleasant surprises when it was bought so long ago.

Albinoni was born in Venice in 1671 and was a singer and violinist, but he didn't belong to the musician's guild, so had to compose and he was known for his operas in his lifetime.  But, his sonatas and concertos took up much of his efforts.  He was well-provided for by his father's will and could devote himself without worry (no small issue for a composer) to his work.

He was prolific, consequently, having produced some 80 operas, most lost, and about double that many of instrumental works.  Though at the time he was viewed in about the same light as Corelli and Vivaldi, these latter are far better known now.  He was, as this recording demonstrates, very attached to the oboe, it being then a new instrument in Italy.  German baroque masters like Georg Philipp Telemann and Georg Friedrich Handel, though, had already written noted works for the instrument, which arose in France.

Albinoni's most fruitful period was in the first quarter of the 18th century and he seems to have composed little after about 1725.  Sadly, most of his published work did not survive the horrors of World War II, especially the devastating bombing of Dresden, where much of his material was housed.

There is, however, an amazing story of a musicologist from Milan who was in the ravaged German city and found a fragment in the ruins of the state library, which was what was left of an adagio by Albinoni.  Remo Giazatto reconstructed the movement from the remains and it has become the piece most identified with this nearly-forgotten baroque master.

While all of the works on this disc are uniformly excellent and it is hard to pinpoint favorites, this adagio, only two minutes long in a short 8 1/2 minute concerto in C, is achingly gorgeous and justly renowned, even if might be somewhat different than what Albinoni actually wrote.

The liners by Michael Talbott noted that, whereas someone like Vivaldi would use the oboe almost as a substitute for the violin and that such works were "for" the oboe. Albinoni consciously identified his pieces as "with" the instrument.  Moreover, Talbott observed that, as an operatic composer of fame in his era, Albinoni wrote for the oboe as evocative of the operatic voice in an aria.  This remark proved to be very helpful in listening to this excellent recording again this evening--the instrument does come across as voice-like.

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