Phil Salathé: Imaginary Birds - Music for Oboe and English Horn

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Great Performances

Music for oboe and cor anglais by Phil Salathé,

'This composer is technically assured, and has a unique perspective and voice.'


As an oboist and cor anglais player, I look forward to new music for my instruments, and this new compilation of short pieces is a great addition to a rather slender repertoire.

Phil Salathé is a composer not previously known to me, but I can see from the information on the disc cover that he has been performed quite widely. His lively personality and interest in the music-making of oboist Paul McCandless are both reflected on this disc.

The evocative Mandarin Ducks, played by Ling-Fei Kang, oboe and Charles Huang, cor anglais, is quite delightful. For the most part, the musical writing is fairly conventional, but at times, uses some more adventurous techniques, such as the use of multiphonics in the second piece, 'Squabbling over a Slug'.

Listen — Phil Salathé: Squabbling over a Slug (Mandarin Ducks)
(track 2, 0:22-0:44) © 2019 Ravello Records LLC :

These movements are very short, the longest running for just over a minute and a half, and are scored for oboe and cor anglais alone. Especially evocative is 'Brooding over a sick Mate' - the oboe wails and chirps over a held cor anglais note. I am especially fond of 'Nesting by the Lake' and 'Leading Ducklings amongst the Stones'.

Listen — Phil Salathé: Nesting by the Lake (Mandarin Ducks)
(track 5, 0:00-0:18) © 2019 Ravello Records LLC :

The Heart that Loves but Once for oboe (Charles Huang), viola (Andrew Knebel), harp (Annabelle Taubl) and piano/celesta (Yu-Chen Shih) was inspired by Robert Schumann's letter to his future wife Clara at a time when things appeared hopeless. It is a delicate work with lots of beautiful sounds, and the performers really explore the beautiful sonorities and writing. Quite a lot of the oboe writing is quite high in its compass, and there is a rather forlorn nature to this fascinating work, which has moments of angst too.

Listen — Phil Salathé: The Heart that Loves but Once
(track 8 3:34-4:26) © 2019 Ravello Records LLC :

Imaginary Birds of the Frozen North for solo cor anglais (or English horn, as it is called here) has three movements of contrasting nature, representing the spirits of three imaginary birds - 'Lesser Snow Ostrich', 'Great Northern Wandering Dodo' and 'Sub Arctic Screech Owl'. These short pieces, played by Charles Huang, are very effective, especially 'Sub Arctic Screech Owl', which employs quite a number of contemporary techniques.

Listen — Phil Salathé: Sub Arctic Screech Owl
(Imaginary Birds of the Frozen North)
(track 11, 1:08-1:41) © 2019 Ravello Records LLC :

The longest work here, The Wood Between the Worlds, for oboe, cor anglais, cello and piano, has ten short movements. Here, Ling-Fei Kang on oboe and Charles Huang on cor anglais are joined by cellist Katie Kennedy and pianist Mohamed Shams. The playing, here and throughout the disc, is very good, and I think this collection of little pieces will be well-received by most who listen to or perform it. Three different appearances of the wood connect a number of states of the world, or worlds. Each world is different from the next - and the varying content and contrasts make delightful listening. This composer is technically assured, and has a unique perspective and voice.

Listen — Phil Salathé: The Wood (The Wood Between the Worlds)
(track 12, 0:04-0:43) © 2019 Ravello Records LLC :

Expecting the Spring Breeze is an arrangement for oboe, here Ling-Fei Kang, and guitar, played here by John Birt, of a melody by Teng Yu-hsien, loved in Taiwan. The composer asks that we treat it as a kind of encore. Like the rest of the disc, it receives a beautiful performance.

Listen — Phil Salathé: Expecting the Spring Breeze
(track 22, 0:56-1:55) © 2019 Ravello Records LLC :

Lovers of oboe music or people who just want to hear a nice, unfettered disc, will find much here to enjoy, with great performances all round.

Copyright © 22 April 2019 Geoff Pearce,
Sydney, Australia



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