Warm oboe sounds shine in recital about love

Music / CSO Recital Series, Diana Doherty, oboe, and Bernadette Harvey, piano, Great Hall, University House, March 31. Reviewed by CLINTON WHITE. 

IF ever there was any doubt that the oboe was not an instrument of warmth, grace and romance, this recital buried that doubt.

Diana Doherty… Doherty took her oboe to its limits, but with consummate skill and ease, never faltering, always assured but with great sensitivity.

And this was very much a duo performance, for pianist Bernadette Harvey was as much the performer as was celebrated principal oboe for the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and CSO artist in focus Diana Doherty.  

The brilliantly conceived program, themed on love, complemented the brilliant musicianship of these fine artists. They painted vivid mind’s-eye images of the search for love and a tentative first kiss, right through to romance and passionate love.

The recital opened with a transcription for oboe of Clara Schumann’s “Three Romances for Violin and Piano”. She wrote it in 1853 for husband Robert and their friend, violinist Joseph Joachim. It was also the year they became friends with Johannes Brahms.

The oboe’s warmth went to the fore immediately with the first movement taking it through gentle flowing melodies, leading into a wispy, almost whimsical second movement, featuring arpeggiated bird-like songs and finally, the youthful romance of the third.

One hundred years on the lyrical “Poeme for Oboe and Piano” came from the pen of the Russian composer Marina Dranishnikova. Very much in the romantic style, its melancholy start gives way to playful romance and passionate love. But perhaps it’s all only a dream, for its rather foreboding end echoes the start.

The Doherty/Harvey duo told the story with seamless exchanges and lush expression, exploiting the key and rhythm changes and richly creating the mood changes packed into its ten minutes.

Then it was all the way up to 2009 and a piano/oboe version of “In the Spirit House”, by Australian composer Tim Dargaville. Dargaville says he strives to create music that “can take your breath away. Render you speechless for a time.”

Quite the showpiece, “In the Spirit House” is less about melody and more about moving variously between chaos and calm. It evokes a kind of unsettled mystique with virtuosic passages that, at one moment, hold a single note seemingly interminably and, at another, take the oboe through its full range in a lightning-speed note sequence. It scurries about, uncertain where to go, and ends, breathless, in a peaceful calm.

This piece is challenging and complex, with abstract parts for the two instruments. Doherty and Harvey took the challenge and made it their own triumph with an assured performance that, indeed, took the listener’s breath away.

Closing the hour-long program was the “Sonata for Violin and Piano”, by the Belgium-French composer, César Franck, written in 1886.

It’s an intense piece that, for much of it, struggles to find true love (even though it was a wedding present for a young violinist). The first movement is tentative. In the second, the search becomes frantic, with the third an uncertain series of short improvisations. It’s not until the final movement that the search for love resolves into a restful – and relieved – assurance and, finally, triumphant joy.

Doherty and Harvey created a virtual picture book, such was the clarity of the images and scenes they created. Doherty took her oboe to its limits, but with consummate skill and ease, never faltering, always assured but with great sensitivity.

Applause followed; it was as warm as the sound Diana Doherty created on her instrument. The audience will be looking forward to more from her as soloist in the CSO’s Llewellyn One concert on April 3 and 4.

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