Since his student days at London’s Royal Academy of Music, oboist Christopher Redgate has specialized in the performance of contemporary music and he is known as a champion of extended techniques. For that reason many composers have written works for him to premiere. He is also active in commissioning new works. From 2009 to 2012, Redgate was a fellow of the Arts and Humanities Research Council. In collaboration with British oboe maker, Howarth of London, he has been redesigning significant areas of the oboe’s key work. Redgate has been careful not to make changes that would require a current oboist to relearn the instrument in order to play the new model. Redgate and pianist Stephen Robbings played Edwin Roxburgh’s Well-Tempered Oboe on the Howarth-Redgate 21st-century Oboe using the extreme high register available only on the new instrument. Since the composer is an oboist himself, his music is idiomatically written. In his piece, he has pushed the boundaries of the instrument to new limits and opened the door to new playing techniques. The “Aeolian Prelude” makes excellent use of the new oboe’s high notes as well as some of its multiphonic tones.
Multiphonics refers to the technique of producing several notes at once. Whether or not the instrument’s extended range and multiphonics will be used by many composers of new music and accepted into the orchestral repertoire remains to be seen, but the new notes available on the Howarth-Redgate Oboe are forceful and secure. In the “Triadic Arioso” the oboe tones have more relationship to each other than they had in the prelude and the structure of the piece is underscored by a rippling piano part. It concludes with several multiphonic tones that give the listener a good idea of what this instrument can do. In the “Chromatic Fantasia” multiphonic tones melt into simple notes and we listen to a sweet melody. It gives the listener a sample of this instrument’s ability to play traditional music. Roxburgh writes a fast finale for oboe and piano which he calls a “Multiphonic Toccata.” I found this movement the most interesting of the group because it was meant more for listening than for demonstrating the new oboe. Its melody is full of tonal color that floats over a traditional rhythmic, multitextured piano part. Both oboist Redgate and pianist Stephen Robbings play with the highest degree of artistry.
The Lupophon is a new variety of bass oboe manufactured in Germany by Guntram Wolf. It is actually a modified heckelphone, with a slightly smaller bore and a range that reaches low F. Its four lowest semitones allow it to play all of the low notes that Richard Strauss wrote into the heckelphone part of An Alpine Symphony. These notes descend beyond the usual instrument’s possibilities. The low notes on the Lupophon are positively enticing. Awâz-e Niyâz (Songs from Mysterious Necessity) is a Farsi title. The work is inspired by the traditions of Persia and the manner in which Persian music is performed. The composer used traditional musical fragments from Persian culture as a large part of his composition. Because of this, the work has an exotic aura about it. After listening for a minute or two you can picture a silken tent on a warm evening and, as Redgate plays some low trills on his Lupophon, you may think of bejeweled belly dancers emerging from the shadows. Even though Finnissy has run the Persian fragments through a modern British filter, their essence is intact. At some points Redgate switches between the Lupophon and the Howarth-Redgate Oboe so in Awâz-e Niyâz we get to hear the complete range of tones available on modern oboes. This relatively long work is not divided into sections and has a cohesive structure. This is a fine composition that does a great deal more than merely demonstrate the possibilities of two new instruments. Oboist Christopher Redgate is a consummate virtuoso and composer-pianist Michael Finnissy plays with great precision. The sound is excellent and there are no clicks or audible breathing to spoil the listener’s enjoyment.