Christoph Hartmann

Bella Napoli: Concerti per Oboe

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The technical gifts of German oboist Christoph Hartmann are not in doubt. Any track on this disc will provide some evidence, and the Oboe Concerto in G major of Johann Adolf Hasse (tracks 4-6), where the oboe is a stand-in for one of Hasse's operatic prima donnas, has plenty of it in the outer movements. It's the overall concept of this release, not anything Hartmann does on the oboe, that causes problems. The Bella Napoli title and the "Concerti per Oboe" subtitle are both a bit misleading. The various composers represented had connections to Naples that range from close to glancing, and not all the music was necessarily written there. And much of the music was arranged for oboe and chamber orchestra by Wolfgang Renz. These arrangements are not uniformly effective. The wholesale creation of Domenico Scarlatti and Domenico Cimarosa oboe concertos out of keyboard sonatas results in busy textures to which the oboe can't really stand up. The only really Neapolitan-flavored piece is the Ricordo di Napoli for oboe and strings by Antonio Pasculli, also arranged by Renz from an original for an unidentified ensemble that did feature the oboe (Pasculli was an oboist). This is something of a fantasy on melodies in the vein of Neapolitan song. It's an attractive piece worth reviving, and in fact most of the music here has never been recorded anywhere else. But the close-up recording, with lots of key clicking pushed toward the listener, does Hartmann no favors. The project of creating performances that deal with Naples as a musical identity is a worthwhile one; two centuries ago, the city was one of the 10 biggest in the world, and it supported a rich and varied musical life. The present disc, however, is no more than a preliminary sketch toward such a project.

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