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ClassicsOnline Home » BACH, J.S.: Oboe d'amore Concertos, BWV 1053, 1055 / TELEMANN: Oboe d'amore Concertos, TWV 51:G3, 51:A2 (Stacy)
Thomas Stacy is widely known through his recordings, television appearances and as English hornist with the New York Philharmonic. He also has a passion for playing the English horn’s smaller relative, the oboe d’amore.
“Many listeners will recognize the distinctive sound of the oboe d’amore from having heard it in Bach’s B Minor Mass, St Matthew Passion, where it is used in pairs, or in Ravel’s Bolero. Hearing this instrument solo in these beautiful concerti may be a new experience for some. Telemann and Bach used the instrument brilliantly, requiring agile virtuosity in the fast movements and in the long lines of the heart-tugging slow movements, they made splendid show of the oboe d’amore’s uniquely plaintive timbre.” – Thomas Stacy
By Giv Cornfield
The New Recordings, Cliffs Classics
These works are all quite familiar, and Mr. Stacy plays them with smooth, elegant phrasing and lovely tone.
By David Denton
The oboe d’amore fell out of fashion at the end of the 18th century, though in the Baroque repertoire its tranquil and serene quality found much favour.
Telemann wrote three concertos for the instrument, though it is open to conjecture that Bach ever composed such works. That uncertainty arises from his predilection for arranging concertos for different instruments, and only the most slender evidence exists that either concerto here recorded was originally for the instrument. The concerto in A major BWV 1055 is known in its format for harpsichord and strings, though there are those who think that the figurations in the solo part could well have suggested it was an arrangement of an earlier woodwind concerto, and if so it could have been the oboe d’amore. The D major is even more ‘cobbled’ together, this time using material from Cantatas that featured parts for the instrument. Ironically it is the two works by Bach that make the most immediate impression, the orchestral part being distinguished and much more than a routine accompaniment. They are played by Thomas Stacy, the cor anglais for the New York Philharmonic, and in that capacity has appeared with them as a soloist on many occasions. Completely at home in those deft ornamentations that are played with faultless agility, he produces a very ripe quality from his instrument, given added weight by the close microphone placement. His partners are the Toronto Chamber Orchestra conducted by Kevin Mallon. A modern instrument group, their playing is neat and well versed in modern thoughts on good Baroque style. At times I feel the music needed to be pushed forward with greater urgency, though the performances make an interesting traversal of some little known repertoire. As a sampling point try track 5, the Allegro from Bach’s A major concerto, which to my ears is the most attractive work on the disc. The general sound quality is good despite being overly generous to the soloist.
Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) and Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750)
Concertos for Oboe d’amore
The oboe d’amore is the alto or mezzo soprano of the oboe family. The other family members, in descending order of pitch, are, musette, oboe (oboe d’amore), English horn or cor anglais and baritone or bass oboe. The oboe d’amore came about in the 18th century, probably as a convenient way of playing in the 3-sharp key of A, which is its pitch, a minor third below the oboe. It is slightly larger than the oboe and with its pear-shaped bell and short crook, looks like a small English horn. The tone is darker than that of the oboe – less nasal and penetrating. J.S. Bach often used the tranquil, serene tone idiomatically in his vocal works, employing one regularly from 1723 onwards. In 1717 Christoph Graupner first used the instrument in a cantata. The first recorded appearance in an orchestral score was in 1722 by Telemann. 19th- and 20th-century composers seldom used the instrument. Exceptions are Debussy and Richard Strauss, Strauss using the unique tone to portray his infant son in his Domestic Symphony. A familiar usage is as one of the solos in Ravel’s Bolero.
Georg Philipp Telemann was among the most distinguished composers of his time, a rival to his friend Johann Sebastian Bach in reputation, and the certain preference of the Leipzig authorities for the position of Cantor at the St Thomas Choir School, where Bach was eventually appointed in 1723. Telemann had, in 1721, taken the position of Cantor of the Johanneum in Hamburg, with musical responsibility for the five principal city churches of the city. His negotiations with Leipzig a year later proved the means to secure better conditions in Hamburg, where he remained until his death in 1767. He was succeeded there by his godson Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach, son of Johann Sebastian.
Born in Magdeburg in 1681, Telemann belonged to a family that had long been connected with the Lutheran Church. His father was a clergyman and his mother the daughter of a clergyman, while his elder brother also took orders, a path that he too might have followed, had it not been for his exceptional musical ability. As a child he showed some precocity, but it was while he was a student at Leipzig University, which he entered in 1701, that a career in music became inevitable. He founded the University Collegium Musicum that Bach was later to direct and in 1703 became musical director of the Leipzig Opera, composing some twenty operas himself. At the same time he involved his fellow-students in a great deal of public performance, to the annoyance of the Thomascantor, Bach’s immediate predecessor Kuhnau, who saw his prerogative now endangered.
After Leipzig Telemann went on to become Kapellmeister to Count Erdmann II of Promnitz, a nobleman with a taste for French music, and in 1708 moved to Eisenach, following this with a position as director of music to the city of Frankfurt am Main in 1712. There were offers of employment elsewhere, but it was to Hamburg that he finally moved in 1721, to remain there for the rest of his life.
As a composer Telemann was prolific, providing an enormous body of work, both sacred and secular. This included 1043 church cantatas, 46 settings of the Passions, one for each of the years he was in Hamburg, and nearly a hundred concertos. He continued to involve himself in public performances of opera in Hamburg, arousing some opposition from the city council, his employers. Once he had strengthened his position he took additional responsibility as director of the Hamburg Opera, while active in publishing and selling much of the music that he wrote. Four years Bach’s senior, he outlived him by seventeen years, so that by the time of his death Haydn was 35 and Mozart was eleven. His musical style developed with the times, from the characteristically late Baroque to the new stile galant exemplified by his godson.
Three concertos by Telemann for the oboe d’amore have been listed, with an early work in E minor conjecturally dated to 1717. The Concerto in G major has been dated to between 1725 and 1735 and explores the pastoral qualities of the instrument, with a gently lilting first movement in 6/8, a lively Allegro, an E minor Adagio that calls for ornamentation and a final 12/8 Vivace that suggests the hunting-field in its repeated notes.
The earlier Concerto in A major, dated to 1717 or later, opens with a pastoral Siciliano. The Allegro that follows is characteristic in its ebullience, with an A minor Largo in which the soloist is accompanied principally by basso continuo. The final Vivace introduces interesting rhythmic variety in the figuration of the main theme, heard first with the oboe d’amore accompanied only by the first violin.
Johann Sebastian Bach was a member of a family that had for generations been occupied in music. His sons were to continue the tradition, providing the foundation of a new style of music that prevailed in the later part of the eighteenth century. Johann Sebastian Bach himself represented the end of an age, the culmination of the Baroque in a magnificent synthesis of Italian melodic invention, French rhythmic dance forms and German contrapuntal mastery.
Born in Eisenach in 1685, Bach was educated largely by his eldest brother, after the early death of his parents. At the age of eighteen he embarked on his career as a musician, serving first as a court musician at Weimar, before appointment as organist at Arnstadt. Four years later he moved to Mühlhausen as organist and the following year became organist and chamber musician to Duke Wilhelm Ernst of Weimar. Securing his release with difficulty, in 1717 he was appointed Kapellmeister to Prince Leopold of Anhalt-Cöthen and remained at Cöthen until 1723, when he moved to Leipzig as Cantor at the School of St Thomas, with responsibility for the music of the five principal city churches. Bach was to remain at Leipzig until his death in 1750.
As a craftsman, obliged to fulfil the terms of his employment, Bach provided music suited to his various appointments. It was natural that his earlier work as an organist and an expert on the construction of organs, should result in music for that instrument. At Cöthen, where the Pietist leanings of the court made church music unnecessary, he provided a quantity of instrumental music for the court orchestra and its players. In Leipzig he began by composing a series of cantatas for the church year, later turning his attention to instrumental music for the Collegium Musicum of the University, and to the collection and ordering of his own compositions.
It was in Leipzig that Bach wrote a number of harpsichord concertos, drawing largely on earlier compositions written during his years at Cöthen. From these it has been possible to reconstruct the original works that served as the basis of the newly arranged concertos. Among these is the Harpsichord Concerto in A major, BWV 1055, in which Donald Tovey first perceived the possibility of an original concerto for oboe d’amore, identified on the grounds of the range and figuration of the solo part. In the Allegro first movement the soloist enters in the lower register of the instrument, and there are passages accompanied only by basso continuo, as the movement unfolds. The following F sharp minor Larghetto, in 12/8, is in the style of an aria, accompanied by the steady rhythm of the strings, and the concerto ends with an Allegro ma non tanto in which the orchestral ritornello returns to frame a series of solo passages.
Various problems have arisen in the reconstruction of the Concerto in D major, BWV 1053, for oboe d’amore, strings and basso continuo. The three movements of the conjectured concerto are reworked from the Sinfonia and the aria ‘Stirb in mir, Welt’ from the cantata Gott soll allein mein Herz haben, BWV 169, written for the eighteenth Sunday after Trinity in 1726, and the Sinfonia from the cantata Ich geh und suche mit Verlangen, BWV 49, written for the twentieth Sunday after Trinity of the same year. The first movement of Cantata No. 169 is scored for two oboi d’amore and strings, with an obbligato part for the organ. The Aria, the fifth movement of the cantata, is in B minor, scored for alto and strings, and in the dotted 12/8 metre of a siciliano. The supposed third movement of the reconstructed concerto appears in Cantata No. 49 in E major, and is there scored for oboe d’amore and strings, again with obbligato organ. In 3/8 and with a da capo it has to be transposed down to D major, providing a convincing enough ending to an oboe d’amore concerto that seemingly provided a source for two cantatas and then for a harpsichord concerto, a fine example of Bach’s readiness to recycle material, when necessity arose.
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BACH, J.S.: Oboe d'amore Concertos, BWV 1053, 1055...