Sunday 6th found us at the Sam Wanamaker theatre for a concert featuring the baroque oboe, and the following Sunday featured a modern oboe in an equally remarkable setting, the Saloon at Duncombe Park, the stately home on the fringes of Helmsley in the North Yorkshire Moors National Park. The oboe being played here was, as Nicholas Daniel described it, “The world’s first fair trade oboe – it’s been nothing but trouble but I love it.” And so it proved to be; you could not help but love this wayward, temperamental instrument, especially when played with such consummate skill and accompanied with such sympathy by Charles Owen’s piano.
Bach’s Sonata in A major is fiendish enough as a concert opener, but its challenges are magnified when played on a volatile instrument in a wood-panelled drawing room on an exceptionally humid evening; Nicholas Daniel surmounted them with ease to give a finely nuanced performance, especially of the lovely ‘Siciliano.’ He describes Schumann’s Abendlied as “calm, and achingly moving” as it proved to be, with poetic playing from both oboist and pianist. The recital’s first part closed with York Bowen’s Oboe Sonata, its fiendish piano part reminding us why Bowen has been called the “English Rachmaninov,” and testing the oboe to its absolute limits in terms of the player’s virtuosity, limits which still seemed not to provide too much difficulty for these musicians.
James Macmillan’s In Augustiis set a sobering mood after the interval; the work is a response to 9/11 and uses the oboe’s most mournful tones, as well as the player’s own voice, to provide a solemn reflection on that day. The sombre mood was maintained by Pavel Haas’ Suite (Op. 17), written in 1939, two years before he was sent to Theresienstadt, where he subsequently died; Haas was a pupil of Janáček, and you can hear that composer’s influence in the work’s combination of nostalgia and certainty. The gloom was dispelled by the evening’s final work, Antonio Pasculli’s Fantasy on Verdi’s Rigoletto. Pasculli was known as “the Paganini of the Oboe” and his writing for the instrument shows that he must have been a fantastically virtuosic player; strongly featuring the melody of ‘Caro nome,’ it tests the players’ technique to the full, and provided a rousing finale to this varied and enjoyable recital.
There are ten days more of concerts in the Ryedale Festival, so if you thought that the Tour de France showcased the best of Yorkshire, think again; not only are there some great entertainments ahead but they are staged in some of the most beautiful venues in the country, including Castle Howard (aka Brideshead), Sledmere House and Hovingham Hall. For full details, see www.ryedalefestival.com