Mullikin, Strauss

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4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

COMPOSERS: Mullikin,Strauss
LABELS: Summit
WORKS: Oboe Concerto
PERFORMER: Peter Cooper (oboe); Academy of St Martin in the Fields/Neville Marriner
CATALOGUE NO: DCD 320
The recent Oboe Concerto by the American composer David Mullikin (b1950) is nothing if not tuneful. Commissioned to write a piece which would be ‘Romantic, sentimental and melodic’, with nostalgic references to Forties popular songs, he obliged with a warm bath-full of tunes, conventionally harmonised and orchestrated, offset by a virtuoso scherzo and dancing finale. Was the intention to justify this ‘retro’ stance by pairing Mullikin’s work with the apparently backward-looking Oboe Concerto of Richard Strauss’s last years? If so, the plan backfired: for all its stream of ingratiating melody and curling arabesques, the Strauss subtly integrates its neo-classicism with the deft hand of an old master.

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Peter Cooper, principal oboist of the Colorado Symphony, is a first-rate soloist: he has a pleasantly rounded tone and his playing of tricky passagework is unfailingly nimble. He is predictably well supported by Marriner and the ASMF, and the balance brings out Strauss’s profusion of counter-melodies. However, the tempi in this piece do not always feel stable, and in the final section Cooper and Marriner blindly follow the inexplicably accumulated tradition of a very leisurely Allegro, followed, at what is intended to be the last restoration of this same tempo, by a headlong dash for the line.

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No recording has yet followed the composer’s clear intentions here. But of the current field, the second of Heinz Holliger’s three versions, brilliantly played and full of subtle insights, is worth picking up at its current bargain price. Anthony Burton