Want 64 minutes of solo oboe? Here you go.
The oboe is a funny instrument, isn't it? With its reedy, nasal inflection, it's not often heard in isolation. To be fair though, many instruments might strike a listener as somewhat odd if taken out of the expected context and transmuted into a solo performer. (Glockenspiel, anyone? Trombone? Cowbell? Theramin?) The number of instruments which can comfortably hold their own as solo voices are relatively few—stringed instruments like guitar and lute come to mind, along with keyboards such as piano and harpsichord, and perhaps violin. This is probably why so much music, including classical music, was written for ensembles—orchestras, chamber musicians and so forth.
One is apt to ruminate on such ideas when listening to Céline Moinet's fine collection of solo oboe pieces, Céline Moinet: Oboe Recital, because this is truly a solo record in every sense of the word. There is no accompaniment here at all, placing the weight of these compositions on the shoulders of Moinet's supple and expressive playing. This proves to be a task that she is more than adequately prepared for, although by the end of the disc's 64-minute run time, you might be forgiven for thinking you had heard enough oboe for a while.
The CD features a mixed bag of pieces, and wisely leads off with the most accessible: J.S. Bach's "Partita in A minor, BWV 1013", originally written for flute. The piece is as symmetrical and orderly as one would expect, and casts a pleasing spell over the listener for the length of its 18 minutes.
This spell is shattered quite thoroughly by Luciano Berio's "Sequenza VII", a piece written in 1969. Perhaps inspired by some of Paganini's more virulent outbursts, the shrill and at times discordant "Sequenza VII" reminds this listener of nothing so much as Neil Young's feedback-laced Arc Weld recording from the early 1990s. It's courageous of Moinet to include such an unapologetically demanding piece on the record—and hot on the heels of Bach, no less. Its inclusion here, never mind its placement, strikes the listener as almost a challenge. Some listeners will love it; others will find no need to listen more than once, if that.
This outburst is followed by Benjamin Britten's "Six Metamorphoses After Ovid", another modern piece (1951) but a far more melodic and, perhaps, traditional one. Inspired by figures from Greek mythology such as Pan, Bacchus and Narcissus, these short pieces each convey their own character and mood.
After this comes 1992's "Inner Song" by Elliot Carter, a brief, moody piece inspired by Rainer Maria Rilke's sentiment that "Words still peter out that which cannot be expressed…" As might be expected, it is a slow, contemplative air. Closing out the proceedings is C.P.E. Bach's "Sonata in A Minor, Wq 132", a nice counterpoint to his father's "Partita" that opened the record. Traditionalists out there will no doubt breathe a sigh of relief that the album comes full circle, closing out the recital with the familiar three-piece structure of poco adagio, allegro, allegro. In his way, of course, C.P.E. Bach was as forward-thinking and experimental as any 20th-century composer. It can't be denied, though, that his compositions were a fair bit easier to listen to.