Alexei Utkin

Mozart: Oboenspitze, Vol. 2

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Russian oboist Alexei Utkin has released a series of recordings on the audiophile Caro Mitis label (if you can chew gum and speak Latin at the same time, that would be "juicy fruit"). He bills his Hermitage Chamber Orchestra as the world's only orchestral ensemble led by an oboist, and some of the albums have been designed to spotlight his exceptional oboe skills. This disc has a different idea. Utkin has performed a variety of Classical and Baroque repertoire, transcribing pieces as needed, and here he reworks a pair of well-known Mozart works for chamber ensembles including oboe. The work designated as the Quintet No. 2 in C minor, K. 406, played here by oboe, violin, two violas, and cello is actually a transcription of a transcription. The original work is the Serenade for winds in C minor, K. 388, which Mozart transcribed for string quintet in 1788. Utkin replaces one of the violins with his own oboe. He turns out to be as gifted a chamber player as he is a soloist, but this diminshes the grim concentration of this remarkable work, whose intensity is partly a product of its homogenity of texture. The situation is a bit better with the Sinfonia Concertante in E flat for violin, viola, and orchestra, K. 364, here rewritten by Utkin for flute (on the violin part), oboe, and orchestra. This works quite a bit better than you might expect: the timbral difference between violin and viola is large, and Utkin is able to pull off tricks that replicate the contrasts in the original work. The long-note entrance of the two solo instruments, pregnant with suspense to the point of mystery, is beautifully handled here. This transription, unlike the one of K. 388/406, would have been perfectly comprehensible to an audience of the late eighteenth century. The sound lives up to its audiophile billing, and this may well be a performance that wind players and their admirers will enjoy.

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