Benjamin Britten

Phantasy Quartet, for oboe & string trio in F minor, Op. 2

    Description by Joseph Stevenson

    Britten's fondness for the oboe shows in his orchestral writing. Time and again, he used the high, clear sound of the oboe to pierce through the general sound, often using it as if a single voice against the world.

    The first third of the twentieth century is marked by works by many British composers in the form of chamber music named "Fantasy." This is simply because of the periodic issuing by a wealthy patron of a commissioning prize for such works. Britten composed this Phantasy Quartet for the great British oboist Leon Goossens. It brought him national and international attention, being performed on the BBC in 1933 and at the annual International Society of Contemporary Music Festival in 1934, an extraordinary occurrence for the work of a composer who was still, at time of composition, a teenager.

    The work also exhibits a formal procedure which Britten was to use numerous times throughout his career, that of "framing" a composition in one way or another. In this case, the work begins and ends with a legato oboe song over a string accompaniment consisting of one of Britten's typical disjunct march ideas. Britten builds the work in an arch form comprising, within the frame of the arch, a sonata form of development and recapitulation, a development section (in a very slow tempo) occupying the central position of the arch. It is an uncommonly inventive form, executed with considerable technical skill. Within all this technique, the music is uncommonly expressive.

    Britten does not attempt to deny the oboe its natural tendency to predominate in this ensemble, so that work stands or falls on the artistry of the soloist on that instrument. In return, Britten gave the soloist an extraordinarily interesting and engaging piece of music.

    Appears On

    Year Title Label Catalog #
    2017 Harmonia Mundi HMM 907672
    2013 Guild GMCD 7383
    2013 Decca 4785364
    2013 Lyrichord LYC 6025 CX3
    2012 MDG / Zebralution
    2008 EMI Classics / Warner Classics 5099921752
    2008 Caro Mitis 102004
    2008 Sony Classical Essential Classics 88697285852
    2008 Blue Griffin Recording 141
    2006 Cedille Records 93
    2003 Hyperion CDH55154
    2003 PentaTone Classics 5186018
    2002 Elysium 722
    2001 Ambroisie 9909
    2000 MDG 3010925
    1998 Carlton Classics 6600962
    1998 Campanella 130038
    1996 BIS 763
    1996 Carlton 01032
    1995 Hyperion CDA66776
    1995 Harmonia Mundi 911556
    1995 Amati 9801
    1993 Unicorn-Kanchana 2060
    1990 Telarc Distribution 080205
    Telarc Distribution 80205
    UW Madison, School of Music 9118
    Ten Thousand Lakes 128
    Canal Grande 9326