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George Frideric HANDEL (1685 - 1759): "My Favourite Instrument - Concertos, Sonatas & Arias with Oboe"

Xenia Löffler, oboe; Marie Friederike Schöder, sopranoa
Batzdorfer Hofkapelle

rec: Dec 5 - 7, 2013, Nuremberg, Germanisches Nationalmuseum (Aufseßsaal)
Accent - 24295 (© 2015) (75'22")
Liner-notes: E/D/F; lyrics - translations: E/D
Cover, track-list & booklet

anon: Concerto doppio for oboe, bassoon, strings and bc; George Frideric HANDEL: Aci, Galatea e Polifemo (HWV 72) (Qui l'augel da ianta in pianta, aria)a; Almira (HWV 1) (Geloso tormento, ariaa; instrumental suite [rondeau; bourée; saraband; rigaudon; chaconne]; Vedrai s'a tuo dispetto, ariaa); Concerto for oboe, strings and bc in g minor (HWV 287); Sonata for oboe and bc in c minor (HWV 366); Sonata for two oboes/violins and bc in B flat, op. 2,3 (HWV 388); Teseo (HWV 9) (overture (version Dresden); Morirò, ma vendicata, ariaa)

Inge Marg, oboe; Daniel Deuter, Wolfgang von Kessinger, violin; Caroline Kersten, viola; Antje Geusen, cello; Katrin Lazar, bassoon; Sven Rössel, double bass; Stephan Rath, lute; Stefan Maass, theorbo; Tobias Schade, harpsichord

The title of this disc refers to a statement by Handel in which he expresses his love for the oboe. There is some doubt about the quote's authenticity but Karl Böhmer, the author of the liner-notes, believes that the source, the flautist Carl Friedrich Weidemann, is reliable as he cooperated with Handel and played under his direction. Whatever the truth may be, there can be little doubt that Handel liked the oboe as his vocal works include many obbligato parts for it. He shared this love for the instrument with some of his most notable colleagues, such as Telemann and Bach.

It is remarkable that the number of compositions with a solo part for the oboe is rather limited. The catalogue of Handel's works include three oboe concertos, but two of them are considered spurious or at least of doubtful authenticity. The programme of the present disc opens with the Concerto in g minor which is considered to be the only oboe concerto from Handel's pen, especially since the discovery of a set of parts in 1993, copied between 1717 and 1723 and mentioning Handel as the composer. As so many works by Handel it includes thematic material which he later reused, in this case in a concerto grosso and an organ concerto. It seems likely that this concerto dates from Handel's Hamburg period. There is some difference of opinion about the Sonata in c minor (HWV 366). According to Böhmer it is Handel's only authentic oboe sonata, but the worklist on includes three sonatas without any indication that some of them could be spurious. Böhmer believes that this sonata dates from Handel's London period and could have been written for the German-born oboist Johann Ernst Galliard, but mentions 1711-12 as years of composition. The third chamber music piece is the Sonata in B flat. It was included as the third sonata in the opus 2 which was published in 1733. However, it was composed much earlier, probably in 1717-18. In 1719 Handel stayed in Dresden for some months, and this sonata was copied by the Dresden court oboist Johann Joachim Quantz - later Frederick the Great's flute teacher - in a scoring for two oboes and bc. In the op. 2 it is for two violins, but here it is played with oboe and violin; the booklet doesn't give any reasons for that.

In Dresden some of Handel's opera overtures were also part of the court orchestra's repertoire, among them the overture to Teseo. It was followed by airs and dances; here we hear only the overture in the more opulent scoring as it was performed in Dresden. It is followed by a brilliant aria from this opera, Morirò, ma vendicata, an aria of Medea. The other opera which pops up here is Almira, Handel's first contribution to the genre and the only extant opera from his Hamburg years. For this programme an instrumental suite from this work has been put together. It includes a sarabande whose thematic material Handel later used for what has become one of his most famous arias, Lascia ch'io pianga from Rinaldo. Also included are two arias from this opera. The fourth aria in the programme is Qui l'augel da pianta in pianta from Aci, Galatea e Polifemo, a dramatic cantata which Handel composed in 1708 during his stay in Italy. It includes obbligato parts for oboe and violin which depict the flight of the bird to which the text refers.

The remaining piece is a double concerto for oboe and bassoon. The tracklist says "HWV deest", indicating that it is not included in the Handel catalogue. That would only make sense if it had been discovered that this anonymous piece is by Handel after all. However, Böhmer states that this concerto is "certainly not authentic". He presumes that it was written by a composer connected to the court in Dresden. It has been recorded here for the first time, and it is certainly a nice piece, but I wonder why it was included in a programme devoted to Handel and the oboe.

Xenia Löffler is an excellent oboist, and is principal oboe of the renowned Akademie für Alte Musik Berlin. She delivers brilliant performances here. The Concerto in g minor which opens the programme is telling: the solo part of the very first movement, a grave, is heavily and beautifully ornamented, and so is the third movement, largo e cantabile. The same qualities can be noted in the sonata. She produces a beautiful and clear sound and integrates well in the ensemble. In the arias she emulates Marie Friederike Schöder in the execution of the coloratura. Actually these come off better on her oboe than in Ms Schöder's singing. I generally like the way she performs them, but the coloratura doesn't sound completely comfortable. Vedrai s'a tuo dispetto is a bravura aria but that doesn't fully come off here. I have my doubts about the cadenza in Qui l'augel da pianta in pianta which by far exceeds the tessitura of the aria, something which as far as I know was not common at the time.

These issues notwithstanding, this is a very fine disc. Xenia Löffler convincingly exposes the lyrical and expressive qualities of the oboe.

Johan van Veen (© 2015)

Relevant links:

Xenia Löffler
Marie Friederike Schöder
Batzdorfer Hofkapelle

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