Mozart • Britten • Françaix • Knussen

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COMPOSERS: Mozart; Britten; Françaix; Knussen
LABELS: Harmonia Mundi
ALBUM TITLE: A Tribute to Janet
WORKS: Mozart: Oboe Quartet; Adagio; Britten: Phantasy Quartet; Françaix: Cor anglais Quartet; Knussen: Cantata
PERFORMER: Nicholas Daniel (oboe, cor anglais), Britten Oboe Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: HMM 907672

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Janet Craxton, who died in 1981, was the preeminent British oboist and oboe teacher of her time. Those of us lucky enough to have worked with her remember her supreme musicianship and her generous, humorous personality. Happily, her playing is preserved for later generations on an Oboe Classics disc of broadcasts by her London Oboe Quartet. 

It’s in works for that group’s combination of oboe and string trio that Craxton’s pupil Nicholas Daniel pays this tribute to her, with his colleagues in the Britten Oboe Quartet. Daniel negotiates the Mozart Quartet with bright tone and nimble fingers and tongue, well coordinated in the challenging finale; the strings support him with neat phrasing and clear balance, and effectively establish the tragic tone of the D minor slow movement. Mozart’s incomplete Adagio, now thought to have been intended for clarinet and three basset horns but previously believed to be for cor anglais and strings, is played, in Daniel’s own tactful reconstruction, with unforced expressivity.

In the single-movement Phantasy by the 18-year-old Britten, Daniel successfully reconciles the work’s purposeful forward movement with its reflective hints of English pastoral. And there are exemplary accounts of two pieces written for the London Oboe Quartet in the 1970s: Oliver Knussen’s intricately worked, poetic Cantata; and the Quartet in which Jean Françaix engagingly attempted ‘to make the cor anglais, above all a melancholy instrument, laugh from time to time’.

Anthony Burton

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