Lebrun Oboe Concertos Brilliant Classics

Ludwig August Lebrun (1752-1790)
Oboe Concerto in G minor, André No. 2 (1804?)
Oboe Concerto in F, Sieber No. 7 (1786)
Oboe Concerto in F, Sieber No. 3 (1781)
Oboe Concerto in D minor, André No. 1 (1804?)
Nancy Ambrose King (oboe)
Janáček Philharmonic Orchestra/Jeremy Swerling
rec. 2000-2, Vitkove Dum Kulture [sic], Ostrava
Brilliant Classics 97009 [73]

Lebrun’s oboe concertos fall distinctly within the Classical style, with their fast-slower-fast three-movement structures – those here always ending with a rondo – and rigorous, occasionally creative, treatment of form. Take the opening movement of “André No. 1” – the surnames refer to two separate publishers. The opening ritonello hints at minor-key drama – what, in Mozart, we’d call “operatic” turbulence – though the pace is markedly more deliberate. The oboe, entering with the pointed, plaintive second theme, carries the music into a more cheerful major. It stays there for a while, but, as the development proceeds, the mood darkens as everything -. even the originally cheerful second theme – falls back into the minor, making for a rather severe finish. It’s a unique attempt at purely harmonic structuring.

The slow movements favor oboe-over-pizzicato textures. The Adagio of “André No. 2” grows more expressive , and even a bit disturbed as the strings pick up the bows, leading into an ambivalent closing Rondo.  Conversely, the Adagio of “Sieber No. 3,” just 1:23 in length, serves mostly as a breather before launching attacca into the rollicking finale.

If the structures are Classical, however, the heavily embellished oboe writing sounds more nearly rococo. We have the usual perky, staccato-driven phrases that suit the instrument so well; a number of fast legato scales arrive more unexpectedly. But other phrases are festooned with gruppetti (turns) – not just the occasional flourish, but on successive notes, one turn after another. Sometimes they make a distinctive contribution – in “Sieber No. 3,” they stand in playful relief against the imposing theme – elsewhere, less so. The music all but drowns in a floodtide  of ornamentation; some listeners will find it excessive.

None of that, it should be noted, fazes Nancy Ambrose King in the slightest. She has a pleasing tone quality, pointed rather than round, with a quirky timbre in alt, and, although she occasionally sounds hard-pressed,  she takes the avalanche of turns in stride, and even lends them some sense of shape. Ordinarily, I’d suggest that the tempi might have been relaxed a bit, but Jeremy Swerling’s tempi really do sound right most of the time – the fault, dear Brutus, lies in our gruppetti, and not in ourselves. King is also poised and sensitive in the delicate slow movements; her trills in the Adagio of “Sieber No. 7” are smooth and lustrous.

The Janáček Philharmonic, based in Ostrava, is one of Czechia’s high-profile orchestras, but here it sounds scaled down, perhaps reflecting Classical practice or budget constraints. The homophonic and unison ritornelli sound good, but the strings are less imposing elsewhere – the second violins’ bursts of rapid counterpoint in “Sieber No. 7” are conspicuously thin – and there generally isn’t a whole lot of tutti in the tuttis. The flute is unimpressive where it participates. The horns and batteria, however, support the strings with crisp, firm accents and colours.

The recording is fine, but I believe the venue is at least slightly misidentified. The grammatically correct version of  “house of culture” is Dům kultury – with a kroužek on the “u” of “Dům,” if you please – and Google gives no such precise match for the name of the venue as rendered.

Stephen Francis Vasta

If you purchase this recording using a link below, it generates revenue for MWI and helps us maintain free access to the site

Presto Music