unaccompanied oboe -
'... a masterful performance.'
single voice: a metaphor is a CD for unaccompanied modern and baroque oboe interpreted by Matthew Peaceman. His comment inside the cover is this:
'performing music for oboe alone is an extremely personal undertaking. behind the appearance of artistic freedom lie hidden thousands of decisions, compromises and confrontations with the music and oneself. nothing more or less.'
To open this metaphorical chapter, Mr Peaceman begins with what, in oboistic circles is a 'war horse' -- Benjamin Britten's Metamorphoses after Ovid Op 49. I have always found this piece shallow and out of proportion from a pen of such greatness, although I know I am in the minority amongst oboists.
Publius Ovidius Naso or 'Ovid', was born in 43 BC in Sulmo, and died in exile in AD 14 into which he was banished for a reason not totally defined, but which is suspected to have been some offence to Emperor Augustus' family. He said in explanation that he 'saw something he should not have seen' -- the mind boggles. He had become part of the lively social circle around Augustus' daughter Julia, who was also banished the same year; one in which much moral reform, if not perhaps contraception, was afoot.
Ovid languished in Tomi on the borders of the Black Sea for the last ten years of his life, writing to his wife and absent friends of his sorrows. These poems (the Trista and Letters from Pontus) although without subject but the author's own misery, are conceived in such perfect taste and creativity that they cannot be charged with tedium. I wish I could say the same of Benjamin Britten's six character sketchings.
Ovid influenced Chaucer, Shakespeare, Dante and Milton amongst many others. His Metamorphoses were written in epic meter of dactylic hexameters. We are not talking here of a lightweight poet or of Benjamin Britten, as a lightweight composer. Why then do I find the mixture so unbalanced? After all, the Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings is one of the most perfect examples of an obligato instrument, a spotlight beneath which the oboe excels, and which Britten mastered to perfection.
A glimpse at Thomas Bulfinch, Bulfinch's Mythology: The Age of Fable of Stories of Gods and Heroes gives us a lens that cannot be ignored through which to focus upon our poet within his own prism of greatness.
The rich mythology of Greece furnished Ovid, as it may still furnish the poet, the painter and the sculptor, with materials for his art. With exquisite taste, simplicity, and pathos he has narrated the fabulous traditions of early ages, and given to them that appearance of reality, which only a master hand could impart. His pictures of nature are striking and true ... and when he has completed his work, it is neither defective nor redundant. The Metamorphoses are read with pleasure by youth, and are re-read in more advanced age with still greater delight. The poet ventured to predict that his poem would survive him ...
Copyright © 10 September 2003
Jennifer Paull, Vouvry, Switzerland