Canzonetta for Oboe and Strings, Op.48
Violin Concerto in A, K219 (Turkish)
Symphony No.5 – Adagietto
Beethoven, arr. Mahler
String Quartet in F minor, Op.95 (Serioso)
Hernando Escobar (oboe)
Célia Schann (violin)
International Mahler Orchestra
Reviewed by: Kenneth Carter
Reviewed: 3 October, 2007
Venue: St John's, Smith Square, London
Canzonetta was Samuel Barber’s last work. He had intended to write an oboe concerto. On realising that he could not live to finish it, Barber worked on the one movement only – producing detailed sketches that Charles Turner orchestrated. Hernando Escobar conveyed these final musings with a sweet, sober bearing. The music is gentle, lyrical and melancholy – not unlike the Adagio for Strings. In this sense, Barber seemed to have come full-circle, purveying in both works, a measured, restrained, formal romanticism – sweet, but slightly astringent, harmonic but very slightly dissonant, conscious of European antecedents. The strings accompanied richly.
For the Mozart, the orchestra adopted a thinner, brighter tone to match 18th-century poise, style and elegance – and also a young man’s energy and brilliance. Célia Schann played with lyrical vigour, soaring effortlessly. Tempos were restrained – forward-moving yet not hectic. The mood was Romantic, though held in restraint. She handled the melancholy of the Adagio with dignity and poise. Overall, her tone was lucid and controlled. Oboes and horns judged their interventions commendably.
The Adagietto from Mahler’s Fifth Symphony was the high spot, raptly played and interspersed with well-judged moments of stirring ardour. Overall, this famous, overplayed movement held spellbinding enchantment. The mood was intense, but restrained and lyrical – limpid.
I am not happy with orchestral transcriptions of string quartets. That said, I must report that these youthful players performed Mahler’s arrangement extremely well, with vigorous commitment, alert to the mercurial shifts of mood, tempo and format in Beethoven’s original. The trick is to convey arrangements of this kind as new works, not merely as reproductions of their originals, writ large. At one or two awkward moments, the chamber-music origin is apparent – harmonic shifts, too fleeting for massed strings to capture adroitly, for example. The brusque switches of rhythm and texture in the first movement were less arresting than when heard intimately from a string quartet. I particularly enjoyed the last movement, though – scampering and straightforward, urgent and live. An auspicious concert.