Oboists owe a huge debt to Roxburgh. Over nearly 50 years as both as a performer and a composer, he has pushed the boundaries of the instrument to new limits, exploring and extending its range and developing the techniques of glissandi, multiphonics and tonguing. Here, the highly accomplished Christopher Redgate offers a fascinating overview of Roxburgh's prolific and visionary output from the Sixties to the present day – and includes a sneak preview: a beautiful study commissioned for next year's International Oboe Festival.
MUSIC AND VISION:
Born in 1937, Edwin Roxburgh is a composer whose work should have a far higher profile than it does, for he is a fine craftsman with an astute ear and a real sense of structural design. He clearly hears what he writes and has, over the years, explored the idioms and resources without ever using these dialects or expressions simply because they are on offer. Every organisational process and technical investigation serves a musical purpose, and this is more than evident in this collection of his oboe music, given superb performances by Christopher Redgate -- the most distinguished of contemporary oboe players, with pianist Stephen Robbins and Ensemble Exposé conducted by composer Roger Redgate.
Roxburgh is an oboe player, and this naturally gives authority to his writing for the instrument. The explorations of 'multiphonics' (the technique of producing several notes at once) are his own, and are made to fit the needs of the compositions rather than (as was often the case at the height of these woodwind investigations in the 1960s) a cataloguing of possibilities that paraded as composition. He began as principal oboe of what is now the English National Opera, and became a well respected interpreter of the most challenging contemporary solo repertoire. As a conductor, Roxburgh has also directed performances of a wide range of new music, lavishing care and commitment on scores that may otherwise have been left dormant.
The recital on this disc need not disturb any who fear that over an hour of oboe music may weigh too heavily upon the ear. There is rich variety in Roxburgh's output for the instrument -- and the music covers a period of over thirty years, from Images of 1967 to a solo Study written recently for next year's Barbirolli International Oboe Festival, and which demonstrates the excellent range and control of both composer and performer.
The three movements of Aulodie were written for the 80th birthday of Léon Goossens in 1976 and are a glimpse into an amiable side of the Roxburgh personality.
In Eclissi (1971) a journey from the multiphonic explorations of the oboe, glissandi, flutter tonguing and extending the range to the highest level- appropriately supported by a string trio -- ends in a world of traditional normality, like the eclipse of the title.
The most substantial pieces in this recital are an Elegy, written in 1982 to remember the oboist Janet Craxton and scored for oboe, clarinet, violin, cello and percussion with electronic modulation and amplification of the oboe, and Antares for oboe and piano. This work, written for the 90th birthday of Goossens, neatly enfolds its extended techniques with a magical piano accompaniment.
Cantilena for oboe and piano was written in memory of Adrian Cruft, a colleague on the staff of the Royal College of Music, who died in 1987. Here again is Roxburgh's gift for creating broad lyrical lines spread over an intricate tapestry of accompaniment.
This recording, made earlier this year at Kingston University in Surrey (with its generous support) is not only exquisitely performed, but clearly and sympathetically balanced. Roxburgh well deserves it, and it is to be hoped that his orchestral, choral and vocal pieces will not be long in following.
THE SUNDAY TIMES:
Roxburgh is himself a virtuoso oboist and, as Christopher Redgate explains in the booklet, ideally placed to exploit the innovations in playing technique that the instruments has seen in the past half-century. Most notable is multiphonics, or playing more than note at once, and they make an early appearance in the fourth of these stylishly performed seven works, Eclissi, for oboe, violin, viola and cello. Antares, for oboe and piano, is full of such slightly sour sounds, but Roxburgh never substitutes trickery for musicality, and the eloquent recent solo Study 1 (a competition piece), and the much earlier Aulodie, for oboe/oboe d'amore and piano) have an admirable lyric purity.
GRAMOPHONE: (joint review with an NMC of Roxburgh's music)
New Music for oboe from a British composer with a continental accent. His music doesn't fit in anywhere, which is how Edwin Roxburgh likes it. Now 72, Roxburgh is among a handful of British composers of his generation to engage properly with new music in central Europe. The essential sound world of these pieces rebounds out of ripples created by the 1950s European avant-garde: Roxburgh is big on multiphonics and intricate harmonic overblowing, the sort of techniques he experienced at first hand in his performing career, playing pioneering oboe works such as Berio's Sequenza VII and Holliger's Cardiopbonie .
But something else about Roxburgh's music is quintessentially British. Perhaps it's those resistant traces of pastoral landscaping in his gestures, or the deeply embedded melancholy of his melodic lines. For Christopher Redgate on Metier, Roxburgh's music is allied directly to a [link] between Elisabeth Lutyens and Brian Ferneyhough, a connection not so explicitly spelt out on Paul Goodey's Oboe Classics disc. Both recordings include Antares , Aulodie and the ensemble Elegy , but the performances are so distinct that both discs are ripe for a punt.
For super-human technical slickness, Redgate has it sewn up. Edissi for oboe and string trio is a study in evolving multiphonics and flutter-tonguing textures. Redgate dives deep inside the music – the techniques are so instinctively under his fingers he can forget about the notes – where he finds profound geometric beauty within Roxburgh's sculptural shapes, especially towards the conclusion as the oboe morphs inside the string timbre. Redgate is also a considered player of lines: he takes “Ariadne's Thread”, the final section of Aulodie , at a slower tempo than Goodey, and the ebbs and flows of the piano accompaniment sound intriguingly “once removed” as Redgate walks Roxburgh's snaking line with deft poise.
The high-point of the Oboe Classics set is Shadow Play (1984) for two oboes and cor anglais, in which Roxburgh builds a counterpoint from overlaid multiphonics, and the choir of three oboists pursue a beautifully heard performance. Elegy gets a more secure performance on the Metier disc. At 16 minutes verses 12 minutes there is more scope for air to breathe through its knotty textures.
Roxburgh's music has been conspicuously absent from the catalogue for many long years. Now, all of a sudden, come several discs entirely devoted to his music. NMC released two discs: orchestral on NMC D119 and piano music on NMC D132. Oboe Classics' recent CD of the oboe music, excellently reviewed here by John France, shares several works with the one now under review.
Roxburgh was trained as a professional oboe player and has performed new works for the instrument. It is thus not surprising that his output includes a number of works for oboe. These were written throughout his career. The earliest work dates from 1969 whereas the most recent was completed in 2007. Several of his works for oboe are connected in one way or another with other prominent oboe players. Thus, Aulodie (1977) and Antares (1988) were composed for Léon Goossens on his 80 th and 90 th birthday respectively. Elegy (1982) was written ‘in memory of Janet Craxton'. Finally, Study 1 (2007), dedicated to Lady Barbirolli, was written for the Barbirolli International Oboe Festival and Competition 2009.
The earliest work here, Images does not display any particularly new oboe techniques. These are rather to be heard briefly and tellingly in the piano part which includes some playing inside the instrument. The music mostly unfolds as a succession of short contrasting episodes, often accompanied by angular and capricious piano writing.
Eclissi for oboe and string trio may be one of the first works in which Roxburgh explored contemporary oboe techniques such as multiphonics, flutter-tonguing and the like. These are to be heard in the earlier stages of the work where they combine or confront the strings until they resolve into characteristic sound in the coda that is pure magic.
The very title of Aulodie refers to the Greek aulos and its three movements (Paean, Hermes, Ariadne's Thread) are exactly what their title suggests. Paean has fanfare-like outer sections framing a livelier episode. Hermes is a Scherzo moving at great speed and slowing down for the central section. The work ends with Ariadne's Thread , appropriately enough, a long melody unfolding peacefully over a spare piano accompaniment. The music dispenses with all contemporary techniques and exploits the many possibilities of “traditional” oboe playing.
The most substantial work here, Elegy is considerably more complex. It is scored for a small mixed ensemble: violin, viola, cello, flute, clarinet, percussion and electronics. The electronics must have been used quite sparingly for I could not detect any of it, even after several attentive listening sessions. The work opens calmly with the strings, later flute and clarinet joining the oboe and weaving some close counterpoint. A short-lived crescendo punctuated by multiphonics and the percussion's first entry launches into a new section that soon becomes more animated. Another slow section with punctuation from the cello and the percussion follows. This into the beautiful, appeased coda.
Antares , too, uses new techniques but, as is the case with Eclissi and Elegy , these are for expression's sake and are never overdone. Some of the music is not unlike that heard in Aulodie .
Both Cantilena (in memory of Adrian Cruft) and Study 1 completely avoid any modern oboe techniques. Cantilena is a straightforward and deceptively simple piece of great charm consisting of a long, almost endless melody unfolding over a crystalline accompaniment. Study 1 for solo oboe is also fairly traditional, emphasising the melodic character of the instrument while being challenging enough as befits a test piece for a competition.
Christopher Redgate plays wonderfully throughout, be it in the somewhat simpler works or in the more complex and demanding ones. He gets superb support from all concerned and the whole is beautifully recorded. I was particularly delighted to listen to a disc of music for oboe without being disturbed by the various clicks or breathing noises that sometimes disfigure such collections.
This very fine disc is an excellent survey of Roxburgh's oboe music. It splendidly demonstrates the composer's breadth of vision, from the straightforward to the more complex without ever losing anything of his personality.
Roxburgh's chamber music used to be a fixture of the YCAT concerts that I used to attend years back – and apparently it still is, which is all to the good. Himself a professional oboe player few are more qualified to write for the instrument, taxing expressive and technical demands equally but ensuring that a just balance is held between them. This particular disc is one of a welcome number recently devoted to his compositions.
Study 1 was a test piece written in 2007 and dedicated to Lady Barbirolli for the Barbirolli International Oboe Festival and Competition, held this year (2009). It tests intonation, breath control, virtuosity, control of tempo but also makes requisite demands on the projection of its lyric pulse, something the composer never neglects. These components are, in effect, ones of indivisible binding strength. Aulodie was written for Leon Goossens's eightieth birthday and offers some real charm, from the dappled piano writing and alternating strong chording to the oboe's songful cries, cresting overhead, in the opening Paean. Hermes, the second and central movement, offers a scherzo-like frolicsome profile, whilst the finale is ruminative and reflective.
Images involves harmonics on the oboe and some strumming inside the keyboard, devices that add colour and sonority to the syntax of the work – and to a number of Roxburgh's other works as well. Such elements are present in Eclissi which was written in 1971 – multiphonics, flutter-tonguing and glissandi. This is written for oboe and string trio and one feels a lessening of initial vibrancy towards a more meditative and reflective sense of repose – almost, in fact, serenity.
Antares offers compact multiphonic statements, urgent and insistent, but all coalesces in a pellucid lyric resolution. Similarly impressive is the - once again - multiphonic Elegy, written for oboe, violin, cello, flute, clarinet, percussion and electronics. The percussion-fuelled outbursts here are terse and strong and offer an extreme of response to the prevailing multiphonics. For all that its name might imply quietude the Cantilena is not entirely untroubled by some piano extroversion and a coiling oboe line.
The instrumentalists all play with the most adroit technical and expressive control. Christopher Redgate vanquishes one virtuosic challenge after another and brings to these works an eloquent awareness of their variousness.
Redgate surveys oboe music from Edwin Roxburgh's last 40 years of composing here. A progressive thinking contemporary classical composer as well as a fine player, Roxburgh's work is in fine hands with Redgate at the wheel. Showing the proper feeling to give life to the works, Redgate knows when to lead and when to pull back letting other soloists have the space to add to the proceedings. Solid source material, solid hands on, it all adds up to something special.