Various: Music for oboe and strings by L Berkeley, LeFanu, Lutyens, Maconchy, Routh & Stoker

Our rating 
5.0 out of 5 star rating 5.0

COMPOSERS: Various
LABELS: Oboe Classics
ALBUM TITLE: Janet Craxton: Music for oboe and strings
WORKS: Music for oboe and strings by L Berkeley, LeFanu, Lutyens, Maconchy, Routh & Stoker
PERFORMER: The London Oboe Quartet
CATALOGUE NO: CC 2011 ADD
On first inspection this isn’t exactly eye grabbing. None of the pieces – with the possible exception of the Maconchy – is in the front rank of British post-war music. As a soloist the oboe is the hardest of the woodwinds to take over long periods. Despite re-editing and other clever cosmetic improvements, the sound quality is pretty variable – and it seems there was nothing to be done about the chewed tape in the first movement of Richard Stoker’s Polemics, or the background rumbling and foot-stomping in Lennox Berkeley’s Quartet.

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But for all that, I’m glad I heard this disc. For one thing, Craxton’s playing is simply superb. If she had any doubts about the quality of any

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of this music, she never showed it. The tone is remarkably rich and varied, the precision – especially in complex rhythms – not merely admirable but physically thrilling. But it’s her expression that impressed me most of all. Far from having one expressive style which she applies to more or less everything, Craxton approaches each piece on its own terms: coaxing out poetry here, scooping deep into the notes and drawing up gold the next. This clearly affected the other players: the sense of absorption, whether in the spiny lyricism of Elisabeth Lutyens’s Driving out the Death or in the surprisingly desolate finale of the Berkeley, lingers long after the disc is over. Recommended. Stephen Johnson