Katsuya Watanabe

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The oboe's solo literature is not large, and the list of works represented on this recital disc by Japanese oboist Katsuya Watanabe may not look promising at first glance, with composers traditionally thought of as minor and an extended "morceau de salon" by the Czech early Romantic Johann Wenzel Kalliwoda. All of it is written for the oboe rather than being arranged from other music, however, and in this resides its utter charm. These are "technical" pieces, written to display aspects of the oboe's, and the oboist's, capabilities, and Watanabe, taking that as a basis, treats the music with the utmost lyricism. The effect is unique. The program is carefully framed for maximum effect, with the 1955 Sonata for oboe and piano of William Alwyn immediately showing what Watanabe can do. The first two movements are both moderate in tempo, with the first movement consisting of a series of melodic fits and starts that could easily seem aimless in the wrong hands. With Watanabe, however, it becomes the portal to an enchanted realm in which the listener has the feeling of turning first one way and then another. The Kalliwoda Morceau de Salon, Op. 288, with a language influenced by Weber, deepens the lyrical mood while beginning to introduce technical complications. It's not so much a lost masterpiece as a work that fits well into Watanabe's unique program. Profil's engineering puts the listener up close to the oboist, often an annoying mannerism, but here carefully pushed to the edge in an attempt to put across the sheer physicality of playing the oboe. Sample the first movement of the Dutilleux Sonata for oboe and piano (track 5), a slow fugue in which the oboe is finally pushed into crisis territory, to hear the effect; it's quite intense, but you hear more breathing and key noise than you would hear in almost any concert situation. Nino Rota's Elegia (track 8) is a lyrical interlude before the fireworks are finally unleashed in the final Gran Concerto on themes from Verdi's "I Vespri Sicilani" (again for just oboe and piano), by Antonio Pasculli, known as "the Paganini of the oboe." It lifts the careful French flavor of the music that has gone before and makes an ideal conclusion. This is a sterling oboe recital with a charisma all its own, and it makes you think in the abstract (as annotator Peter G├╝lke does, with German and English notes available) about just what deeper layers of thought are captured in strata of virtuoso instrumental traditions. An absolutely breathtaking and unexpected performance.

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