Monday, 5 August 2013

Arnold Bax: Early Reviews of the Oboe Quintet

W. A. Chislett writing in the July 1927 edition of The Gramophone magazine noted that the National Gramophonic Society (N.G.S.) were about to issue Arnold Bax’s Oboe Quintet. In fact, he had heard the ‘test prints’ and declared that ‘these records are technically the finest yet made for the Society.’ 
Some nine months earlier, in the October 1926 edition the N.G.S. had advertised the forthcoming release of this Oboe Quintet. Other British works scheduled included Delius’ ‘Summer Night on the River’, Eugene Goossens’ Violin Sonatas and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Phantasy Quartet.  
In the same issue, a review of the Bradford Chamber Music Festival on 5 & 6 October 1926, ‘Terzet’ noted that the outstanding work in the first evening’s performance was Bax’s Oboe Quintet. He wrote: ‘This delightful work reveals the hand of a master both in its melodic content and in the handling of the contrasting tone-colours of the oboe and the strings.’ The composer was in the audience that night and ‘must have been equally pleased with the excellence of the performance and the warmness of its reception by the audience.’  Terzet concluded his comments by hoping that this work would be released by the N.G.S. at an early date.  Other British works performed at the Bradford Festival included Delius Violin Sonata No. 2, in C major, Eugene Goossens’ Phantasy Quartet Op.12 and Bax’s Quintet for harp and strings. This last work was deemed to be ‘rather a forbidding work at first hearing.’
In April 1927 it was announced that the Music Society Quartet (International Quartet) would shortly release the Ravel Quartet and the Bax Oboe Quintet. At that time the personnel included Andre Mangeot, Boris Pecker (violins) Henry J. Berly (viola) and John Barbirolli (cello) although it was intimated that for this recording the violist was Frank Howard and the cellist, Herbert Withers. The oboe was to be played by Leon Goossens.
In June 1927, the N.G.S. reported that The Times (I was unable to find this reference) had criticised the surface noise or recent releases, However the Society stated that ‘we hope to improve this, the one weakness of N.G.S. records, in the works now being recorded.
I understand that NGS 76/77 was shipped to the society subscribers during August 1927. The first and last movements of the Oboe Quintet occupied two sides of the first disc and the the slow movement two sides of the second disc. Fascinatingly, Arnold Bax believed that this middle movement was taken too slowly.
Interestingly, final movement from these this recording was broadcast by the BBC on 29 September 1927.
Hardly surprisingly, the National Gramophonic Society published a number of ‘testimonial’ letters praising their recent issue of the Bax Oboe Quintet.  They include the following comments:-
[The Quintet is] a very fine achievement. I do not know which to praise most, the work with its supremely beautiful slow movement and its riotously jolly last movement, which set the household dancing, or the recording, which is positively superb.  Of course under the heading recording, I must include the playing, Mr Goossens’ oboe work being wonderful. The separation fot he parts in the rather complex writing in the first movement is extremely well done, and I do not think I have ever enjoyed a first hearing of any records so music before.’ A Burgess. The Rev. D. Campbell Miller wrote that ‘In the case of the Bax Quintet, I think your very best effort has been achieved.
Arnold Bax’s Quintet for oboe and strings was released on NGS 76/77.  This recording is currently available on Oboe Classics 2005.

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