Monday, 7 March 2011

Josephine Pickering and Julia Hill, Piano and Oboe

Wonderful Woodwind:
Oboist Julia Hill joins
Pianist Josephine Pickering
It was very sad that John Walthew was unable to join us last Wednesday lunchtime at Glenorchy in Exmouth to perform his selection of pieces for clarinet and piano with local pianist and composer Josephine Pickering.  Not wishing to deny us the pleasure of combined piano and woodwind, Josephine teamed up with orchestral oboist Julia Hill to provide an equivalent programme of pieces for piano and oboe.  Julia was a familiar face to some as her 'Exeter Wind Quintet' have also  performed at Glenorchy.  The previous Saturday night she had played with the Exeter Symphony Orchestra and violin soloist Tasmin Little at Blundell's School in Tiverton.  Read about that concert here.  (You'll need to scroll down a little to get to it.)
Julia and Josephine started with the wonderful Sonata in C by Italian baroque composer and virtuoso oboist to Charles Emmanuel II of Sardinia, Alessandro Besozzi.  Ironically, this was the only piece Julia could find by Besozzi for one oboe.  (Evelyn Rothwell has made an arrangement for oboe and piano for the Chester Woodwind Series.)  Josephine's light touch on the piano allowed the beautiful oboe tone to sing out.  Julia demonstrated her very experienced and economic playing technique throughout the lovely opening andante.  The allegro was lively but the tempo not much faster.  Still gorgeous.  In the Largo Josephine led on the piano at a leisurely pace, and had a lively and lovely part in the allegretto.
The second piece was more modern - from 1935 - Edinburghian Pianist Alan Richardson's 'Roundelay' for oboe and piano.  It was later arranged for piano and clarinet and posthumously dedicated to clarinettist Jack Brymer by a Times obituary columnist in 2003 after Jack's death at the age of 88.  The dedication on the score, however, is to Helen Gaskell, Sir Henry Wood's favourite oboist, who lived at roughly the same time - she died in 2002 at the age of 96.  (Jack was 20, and Helen was 25, at the time the Roundelay was composed, when Alan was 31.  Alan's future wife Janet Craxton, although she also was to become an oboist, did not receive the dedication - because Janet, the daughter of Alan's landlord and professor at the Royal Academy of Music, pianist Harold Craxton, was only six years old at the time!)  This 'song with recurring refrain' became increasingly complex as the theme changed at each repetition.  The timing between the two instruments was very interesting, and Josephine proved a very reliable time-keeper.
Next came the piece everyone was waiting for.  Josephine's own composition, Barcarolle.  This piece was written towards the end of Jack Brymer and Helen Gaskell's lives in 2002.  It was dedicated to, and has been performed many times by, local woodwind player Philip Henry.  (Read about Philip's concert with Josephine here.)  The combined sound gives the delightful sensation of floating downstream, with beautifully integrated piano undercurrents and the oboe sound floating on the surface.  The concluding arpeggios led sweetly to the final word from the piano delivered perfectly by Josephine.  As Julia said afterwards, the piece "sits well on the oboe".
Going back in time by one and a half centuries the next offering was from the great romantic himself, Robert Schumann.  His 'Three Romances for Oboe and Piano' (Opus 94) were written in 1849 for no particular commission, and are not dedicated.  The first, like the third is titled simply 'Nicht Schnell' ('Not Fast').  The second? - 'Einfach, Innig' ('Simple, Intimate').  Julia and Josephine played number one.  Despite the reassuring names, these romances are very taxing - especially for the oboist, who takes the predominant part.  (A 'killer', some might say!)  The piano part is demanding too, with difficult rhythms.  The verdict? - Faultless!  a beautiful piece for both instruments with the oboe getting the last word.
Something very English to finish.  Michael Head, who was born at the turn of the twentieth century, was a pupil at Monkton Combe School in Somerset before studying at the Royal Academy of Music (a decade before Alan Richardson - Head was later Professor of Piano at RAM, along with Harold Craxton, when Richardson was a student).  Michael Head is best known for his songs, often inspired by his experience of war - 'Sweet Chance Led My Steps Abroad', 'Why Have You Stolen My Delight?'.  He also wrote chamber music such as today's selection: 'Three Pieces for Oboe and Piano' (1954).  The 'Gavotte' was mysterious, soft and pensive, becoming increasingly vigorous with a big piano part - leading to a very soft close.  The 'Elegiac Dance' (mournful, with the rhythm of a classical elegy) was certainly slow and moody for the piano, but the oboe part was lively.  The overall impression was of sweet dreams rather than sadness.  The closing chords combined the piano and oboe beautifully.  'Presto' was fairly self-explanatory.  The lively theme was passed from the piano to the oboe right up the triumphant last chord.
These lunchtime concerts need to be kept to a strict time limit, so that was to have been the (very fitting) end to the proceedings.  And a very accomplished and enjoyable concert it had been too.  The audience, however, were quite prepared to extend their lunch-hour to hear more from this marvellous duet.  Julia was adamant, though, that the only additional music she would play was Josephine's own composition, 'Barcarolle'.  No one argued with that, and we heard that beautiful piece all over again - just as stunningly played as the first time round.  A great end to a delightful hour of music for an unusual combination of instruments.  Thank you to Josephine and Julia.

Next concert at Glenorchy?

Marcia Sands (Soprano) and Friends
Glenorchy United Reformed Church Exmouth Wednesday 9 March 12.30pm
Admission Free

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