RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS & JAMES MACMILLAN Oboe Concertos (Harmonia Mundi)
British oboe playing used to be harsh and plangent. Nicholas Daniel has moved in a more appealing direction, such that he enjoys an international career working as artistic director of the Leicester International Festival in his native England, playing in the California-based chamber ensemble Camerata Pacifica, and serving as oboe professor at the Musikhochschule Trossingen in Germany. His interpretation of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Oboe Concerto outshines others currently available on CD, tiptoeing with delicacy in the central Minuet and Musette, swirling excitedly in the Finale, which works up to a wistful reminiscence of “The Last Rose of Summer.” The Britten Sinfonia assists in this splendid reading, as well as in the Oboe Concerto written in 2010 by Scottish composer James MacMillan, a finger-twister of a workout for both soloist and orchestra. MacMillan’s style ranges broadly, as is his wont, here veering into even circus-like honking and a brief spell of sonic chaos. The concerto’s best material, and its emotional summit, comes in the central movement, which Daniels’ accompanying essay describes as a series of arias reworked from what was originally a lament in response to the 9/11 attacks. At the CD’s end, Britten’s Suite on English Folk Tunes: “A Time There Was...” sounds at once ancient and modern, with Daniel taking a final solo turn as English horn soloist in the melancholy concluding movement.