An oboe quartet is traditionally a quartet setting with an oboe and three strings, a violin, a viola and a cello, the typical string trio. Mozart has written his only chamber music work for solo oboe, the downright heavenly beautiful oboe quartet KV 370. There is only a handful of compositions for oboe quartets in traditional setting. Around the time of the KV 370 there are only a few compositions for oboe and string trio, such as oboe quartets by Krommer, Stamitz and Valhal. It seems to be typical that each composer did create just a single work of this kind. This also applies to the nearer past. For example, Bohuslav Martinu wrote a single oboe quartet, which, however, instead of the viola, foresees a piano. Benjamin Britten and Jean Françaix have also contributed to the compositions for oboe and strings, each of which was commissioned by Janet Craxton, founding member of the British chamber music ensemble London Sinfonietta and teacher of today's solo oboist of this ensemble Nicholas Daniels. Nicholas Daniels, together with his colleagues Jacqueline Shave, violin, Clare Finnimore, viola and Caroline Dearnley, cello, founded the Britten Oboe Quartet, which over the years has developed into a true institution thanks to intense concert activity on the British island. It was high time for the first album of the Britten Oboe Quartet, which is conceived as bowing to the oboe-giant Janet Craxton, who died in 1982 at the age of 52, under the title "A tribute top Janet".
Janet Craxton's heyday was in the seventies. From this period, two compositions specially written for her are to be found on "A tribute to Janet", the "Cantata" for oboe and strings by Oliver Knussen and the oboe quartet by Jean Françaix. The "Cantata", which is just a quarter of an hour long, is bursting with the most technically demanding passages for the wind instrument that plays the role of the singer in the cantata, as well as for the three strings setting the mood at times whirringly surreal, and at others counteracting the melody of the oboe with choppy cords. The formidable musicians of the Britten Oboe Quartet seem to have great fun at this ludicrous, ludicrously short composition, whose gait is in stark contrast to the oboe quartet by the Frenchman Jean Françaix, who is known and appreciated for his neo-classical style full of humor and joie de vivre also to be found a plenty in his oboe quartet, which is no less difficult to realize than the "Cantata" by Knussen, and which attains its specific light and easy external effect only through a perfect collaboration.
Benjamin Britten was only 18 years old when, as a graduate of the Royal College of Music, he won the Cobbett Competition for his so-called Phantasy Quartet for Oboe and Strings, which competition was first tendered by an industrialist of the same name at the beginning of the twentieth century aiming at transferring the genre of Old-English gamba music, the "Fantazias", to modern English chamber music. The young Britten succeeded in synthesizing the old and new in a most ingenious way, including placing an issue to the sound world Debussy. Congenially presented the Britten Oboe Quartet in a single large bow, one feels transferred into the old time of the gamba music, while enjoying the modern aura opened by Britten.
Mozart's oboe quartet, followed by an edition of the unfinished Adagio K580a by Nicholas Daniel, proves to be a gloriously glittering diamond in the relatively new musical environment of the brilliantly recorded first album of the Britten Oboe Quartet.
Nicholas Daniel, oboe
Britten Oboe Quartet