Corigliano Orchestral & Vocal Works

Author: 
Edward Seckerson

Corigliano Orchestral & Vocal Works

  • Concerto for Oboe and Orchestra
  • (The) Salley gardens
  • (The) Foggy dew
  • She moved thro' the fair
  • Poem in October

The Clarinet Concerto of 1977 remains Corigliano's best-known piece with two recordings (New World/Koch International, 5/88; RCA, 4/89) and a reputation bordering on notoriety. Now comes—somewhat belatedly—its older brother for oboe from 1975. You can tell instantly that they are related—theatricality runs in the family. After all, how better to set the stage for an oboe concerto than with a sustained A? Corigliano calls it his ''Tuning Game'', and he is as good as his word. The A is irresistible, of course, but as each section of the orchestra in turn duly takes up the call, its 'tuning' is systematically sabotaged. This oboe has teeth: a hyperactive renegade who takes on the percussion in explosive encounters while others (not least horns, spectacularly drawn) protest wildly. As with the Clarinet Concerto, Corigliano seeks wilfully to disregard traditional role models. His oboe is pitted against unreasonable opposition partly to extend its range, to stretch its rarely heard dramatic potential. Forceful multiphonics are brought to bear in the scherzo, while the finale goes middle-eastern, with a pungent simulation (no lip or tongue contact with the reeds) of the Moroccan oboe, the rheita. All of which effectively counters and complements the oboe's singing qualities.
Leonard Bernstein would doubtless have dubbed Corigliano's second movement 'Simple Song' (its long mournful melody would seem to dispense with bar lines altogether), while the fourth movement is a full-blown operatic ''Aria'', carrying a good deal more than empty coloratura display. This, one imagines, is the stuff of oboists' dreams (or nightmares?), but the kind of piece from which even the most intrepid will awaken in cold sweats. Except, perhaps, Humbert Lucarelli who is plainly untroubled by everything that Corigliano throws at him. He throws it right back: a tour de force—in every respect. We in the UK have waited over ten years for this first recording (the LP has been available in the States since 1980). Better late than never.
Corigliano the lyricist is then given full rein for the remainder of the disc. The Three Irish Folk-song Settings are exquisite: three old airs, pure and simple, with solo flute weaving its embellishments like a commentary from another age—our age. But the real discovery of this persuasive Corigliano composite is his Dylan Thomas setting, Poem in October. Here we've an effusive lyricism somewhat akin to Samuel Barber's Knoxville, where the music of the words themselves was so gratefully seized. The best I can say for Corigliano is that his vocal line never for a moment inhibits the text—quite the reverse. Thomas's overt ripeness finds ample endorsement in the music and vice versa. I appreciate, too, Corigliano's respect for the poetic form: instrumental interludes mark out the verse and reflect upon it (flute, oboe, clarinet and string quartet is the combination with harpsichord lending an appropriately russet colouring), key motivic phrases in the music (the setting is cast as a rondo) underline recurrent ideas in the text. And so on. But my words serve only to complicate that which sounds so natural. Robert White is a most eloquent exponent: his apparent ease (and I have in mind one effortless ascent to a sotto voce high G) is a tribute to Corigliano's skill. But why no texts?'

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