Oboes Galore!

Christopher Redgate (oboe)

Stephen Robbings (piano)

Iffley Church Hall, Sunday November 13th 2016


Christopher Redgate is no stranger to Iffley, having performed here in December 2013, with his chamber group ‘Musicians of the Dreaming Spires’. He is currently the Evelyn Barbirolli Research Fellow at the Royal Academy of Music, and has performed widely as soloist over much of Europe. America, Canada and Australia. His accompanist, Stephen Robbings, is equally experienced, having performed at many of the most prestigious venues in England and the world, both as soloist and accompanist. Both performers are interested in contemporary music.

The modern pieces were a mind-expanding highlight of the concert, and build on Christopher’s own research on what he termed ‘multiphonics’- a kind of avant garde sound involving the production of a series of harmonics, and gained by variations in fingerings on the oboe.  On a normal oboe, there are about 500 multiphonics available; Christopher introduced us to his own oboe, the only one of its kind in the world, which has a range of about two and a half thousand multiphonics. More information on this concept can be found on his website.

The first work to introduce this concept was a series of miniatures composed by Christopher Redgate himself, and which introduced us to the oboe family. Most of us are familiar with the oboe and its larger cousin, the cor anglais (famously used in Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique to give a pastoral feel). Redgate’s Four Exotic Miniatures introduced us to the cor anglais, the oboe d’amore (familiar from Bach cantatas), as well as the unfamiliar Lupophon- a kind of bass-oboe, and the smaller ‘Musette’, the sound of which took us back to the origins of the oboe itself in the shawms brought back by the crusaders in the Middle Ages. Before playing this composition, Christopher introduced each instrument in turn, with an expert and often humorous commentary. He described the tone of the ‘musette’ as reminiscent of a visit to the dentist, and the tone of the larger ‘Lupophon’ as resembling a ship’s warning hooter.  The pieces were varied in character, and we were privileged that they had been composed especially for this very concert.

The other work to utilise this technique was The Well Tempered Oboe, which had been composed for the soloist by Edwin Roxburgh, and from which two movements were performed. These were exuberantly experimental, with the sonorities produced sounding almost other worldly and electronic, and including other techniques such as flutter tonguing. The second movement, a toccata,  demonstrated the virtuoso skills of both players. The percussive piano accompaniment supported an angular melodic line on the oboe, with a central section using the more familiar oboe tone as a contrast.

These exciting and challenging works were framed by works by more familiar composers such as Telemann, Schumann and, Saint-SaĆ«ns all performed with Christopher’s sublime oboe tone, and stylishly and musically shaped. There was also another unfamiliar style to which we were introduced, described by Christopher as the ‘Italian Virtuoso School’, and represented by a cor anglais sonata by Carlo Yvon, and indeed reminiscent of a night at La Scala. The piece displayed Christopher Redgate’s virtuoso technique, and also included light-hearted operatic moments.

Overall the concert was fascinating and enjoyable, and opened our ears to a new soundscape. Pianist Stephen Robbings was a supportive accompanist, and accomplished the severe technical challenges with the same apparent ease.

Anna Brunton