sound festival 2019 review: Nicholas Daniel with Oliver Boekhoorn, Jean-Pierre Arnaud and Nicolas Miribel

NICHOLAS DANIEL: Principal oboe



Saturday 2nd November, 2019

This year’s highlighted instrument at the soundfestival is the oboe, so it was fitting that the concert in St Andrew’s Cathedral in the Cathedral at Noon series should put the spotlight on pieces for oboe composed by six different contemporary composers, some present in the Cathedral to hear their music. We had not just one, but three top rank oboe players. Nicolas Daniel whom we heard magnificently in the Lemon Tree last night was the principal player, full of energy and enthusiasm. He was supported generously by two other fantastic oboists Oliver Boekhoorn in ‘Take 2 Oboes’ by Thea Musgrave and along with him, Jean-Pierre Arnaud in ‘Intercession’ by James MacMillan. In the opening piece by Alasdair Nicolson we also had violinist Nicolas Miribel from Red Note.

‘Magnus III’ by Alasdair Nicolson was written for a Memorial Concert in St Magnus
Cathedral in Orkney in memory of the late Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. It was an
atmospheric marriage of the modern and the ancient in music, based as it was an ancient medieval hymn. There was marvellous fluent playing from both oboe and violin, with pizzicatos, sometimes guitar like, and harmonics matching the higher registers of the oboe.

‘Take 2 Oboes’ by Thea Musgrave now some 92 years of age had four relatively short movements. The first movement was bright and lively with the two oboes Nicholas Daniel and Oliver Boekhoorn taking part in a light-hearted musical dance together. The secondmovement was basically slow at heart but both oboes had moments of flurry which they passed from one to the other. In the third movement there was a sinuous intertwining of the instruments and the final movement was incisive, gestural and attractive. Tansy Davies told us in her programme note that in her piece ‘Forgotten Game for solo oboe’, the oboe played by Nicholas Daniel was like a faun who weaves a ‘power web’through a tree shaping its growth. Before it started, I had thought of L’Après-midi d’un Faune by Debussy, but not at all. This music was much more rhythmically edgy but it expressed very clearly a sense of growth and the power required to shape the tree. In other words you got precisely what it said on the tin.

In De Stâmpare’ also for solo oboe there were short instances of tone bending. Much of the piece used the upper register of the oboe and there was a definite Eastern European flavour to the music. I was impressed by Nicholas Daniel’s beautifully controlled quieter passages. It was a piece that seemed to come right from the hearts of both the composer and the performer. The story behind ‘Proserpina’ by Joanna Lee was printed in the programme but not
everybody had one so it was helpful for Nicolas Daniel to read out the story, originally from Ovid’s Metamorphoses as is the opera ‘La Calisto’ by Cavalli. It tells of the forced abduction of a young innocent maiden by Pluto, God of the Underworld. Henceforth she has to spend half of her time in Hell and the rest on Earth with her mother. Nowadays she could be one of the ‘Me too’ brigade. The solo oboe was powerfully expressive with multiphonic screams, leaps and rushing music picturing the abduction. In essence a strongly narrative work. All the same, I wondered how I would have reacted to it as a purely abstract work, remembering Stravinsky’s statement that music expresses nothing other than itself. What do you other audience members think?

The final work in the concert was ‘Intercession’ by James MacMillan. It had all three oboe players, Nicholas Daniel, Oliver Boekhoorn and Jean Pierre Arnaud standing far from us, just in front of the altar in the Cathedral. This emphasised the sense of drama and indeed of devotion that is written into the music. Nicholas Daniel’s oboe had a flowing continuity while the other two added all kinds of colour and ornamentation. It was a glorious marriage of simplicity and complexity – but after all is that not what in its more mystical realm,Christianity is all about.

After the concert and the usual excellent light lunch, I went to the discussion between Pete Stollery and Phillip Cooke who has written a new book on the music of James MacMillan. It must have been good, because it prompted me to buy a copy of the book.

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