“Mozart: Works for Oboe and Orchestra”
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Allegro for Oboe and Orchestra in F major, K.293/ 416f (Completion Gotthard Odermatt) – Ave verum corpus, K.618 – Concerto for Oboe, Harpsichord and Orchestra in B-Flat major, K.299/297c (arr. Matthias Spindler and A. Mayer)– Ah se in ciel, benigne stelle. K.538 – Rondo in C major for Violin and Orchestra, K.373 – Non temer, amato bene, K.505 – Exsultate, jubilate, K.165/158a (arr. M. Spindler)
Albrecht Mayer (oboe, oboe d’amore, cor anglais, musical direction), Vital Julian Frey (harpsichord, fortepiano, positive organ), Daniel Sepec (concertmaster), The Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen
Recording: St. Cosmos and Damian Church, Lunsen, Germany (July 2020) – 82’02
Deutsche Grammophon 483 8232 (Distributed by Universal Music) – Booklet English and German
Albrecht Mayer’s new album of Mozart works for oboe is unique among recordings for that instrument and probably among Mozart recordings as well. To begin with, this is a historically informed production featuring oboe, cor anglais and oboe d’amore as they would have sounded in the late 18th century (creamy and smooth without the sometimes piercing reediness of modern instruments).
Mayer, whose day job is as principal oboist for the Berlin Philharmonic, directs the Deutsche Kammerphilharmonie Bremen, in performances of seven Mozartian gems showcasing the oboe, yet none of these are in the original instrumentation. The booklet notes state that the aria, Ah se in ciel, benigne stelle is the only work on the album without changes from the original, but even this has the significant modification of substituting the oboe for the soprano voice.
Another startling but delightful innovation in this album is the first selection, Allegro for Oboe and Orchestra in F major, K.293/416f. If this title doesn’t seem immediately familiar, it is because it is the expansion of a fragment only 61 bars long. Composer Gotthard Odermatt channeled his inner Süssmayr to transform this snippet of an incipient oboe concerto into 11 minutes of neo-Mozartian perfection.
The Allegro also contains one of the loveliest classical cadenzas for oboe that I’ve encountered, composed and performed by Mayer. This alone is, as they say, worth the price of admission to an album that may take some getting used to but will emerge as a treasured exploration of an instrument particularly suited to Mozart’s expressive genius.
Another positive shock occurs in the third selection on the album, one of Mozart’s most beloved works, the Concerto for Flute, Harp and Orchestra in C major. In this collection, it morphs into the Concerto for Oboe, Harpsichord and Orchestra, in an arrangement by Matthias Spindler and Mayer. My ears rebelled at the first listening to this unfamiliar orchestration, but by the end of the second go-round, I was totally on board. I wasn’t quite as thrilled with the third movement cadenza, the only place I really missed the harp. The harpsichord seems more like an accompaniment, while the harp at its best emerges as a full partner. However, the overall impression of the concerto was positive and euphoric, with sonorities and grace we seldom experience this side of heaven.
Vital Julian Frey offers some delightful playing on the harpsichord, organ, and fortepiano in a number of the selections, and is particularly effective on fortepiano in the aria, Non temor, amato bene, providing charming context for Mayer’s sinuous melodic line on the oboe d’amore.
Probably the most appealing selection for me is the Exsultate, jubilate arranged for oboe d’amore, orchestra and organ by Matthias Spindler. Mayer calls this arrangement the fulfillment “of a long-held dream”, and it shows throughout three movements in the shining brilliance of the ensemble and the joyous elegance of Mayer’s playing.
Mayer brings a touch of lightness to his performances which is just right for Mozart. The oboist’s sense of humor even extends to the design of the case and booklet which contain 11 images of the musician, mostly in classical-era costume, complete with rouge and fake beauty mark. But be assured, beneath the whimsy lies a musical universe of irresistible beauty and unsuspected depth.