Music with oboe
It has long been otiose to waste further words on the role the English composer Benjamin Britten has played in 20th-century music. His wide-ranging spectrum of stage works, concertos and chamber music has received world-wide acclaim and found a lasting place in the international repertoire, and – according to certain waspish commentators – has brought his homeland back on to the musical map.
Whatever one’s personal opinion of such exaggerations, it is beyond question that Britten achieved amazing things as a child prodigy and, while scarcely out of school, made himself widely talked about, for instance because of his Phantasy op. 2 for oboe and string trio, composed very close in time to his first global success, the Simple Symphony for string orchestra. This oboe quartet, written in 1932, opens a colourful programme of chamber music that draws a multi-faceted miniature portrait of Britten extending to include the unusually orchestrated Gemini Variations on an Epigram by Zoltán Kodály op. 73 (1965) and the Suite for solo harp op. 83 (1969). The highly expressive Six Metamorphoses after Ovid for solo oboe op. 49 (1951) were of course essential to this portrait. The timbre of the modern successor to the ancient shawm leads us back to the Arcadian realms of whose rediscovery Britten occasionally dreamed.