Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827) Variations for 2 oboes & English horn in C major on Mozart's "Là ci darem la mano" WoO 28
Josef Triebensee (1772-1846) Trio for 2 oboes & cor anglais in B flat major Trio for 2 oboes & cor anglais in C major Trio for 2 oboes & cor anglais in F major Variations for wind ensemble on a theme from Haydn's "Surprise" Symphony (No. 94)
Ludwig van Beethoven Trio for 2 oboes & English horn in C major, Op. 87
Marilyn Zupnik (Oboe), Kathryn Greenbank (Oboe), Elizabeth Starr Masoudnia (English Horn)
1996/2007 (out of print)
The [ASV Quicksilva] collection is of music for a trio of two oboes and cor anglais and it includes a real novelty — a work actually written for these three unlikely instruments by Beethoven. The Trio, Op. 87, in spite of its opus number, dates from 1794 and is youthfully spontaneous and well crafted, with the Scherzo and Finale particularly infectious.
Equally diverting is Beethoven's set of variations on Mozart's "La ci darem la mano" for the same combination. The rest of the disc is made up of three charming, lightweight trios by Beethoven's Bohemian contemporary, Joseph Triebensee, which show an even greater feeling for instrumental colour, especially in the nicely blended slow movements. The three soloists here, Marilyn Zupnik, Kathryn Greenbank and Elizabeth Starr, play freshly and match timbres nicely. Taken a work at a time this well-recorded disc is very agreeable.
Every great artist, I’m sure, leaves a surprise or two for posterity. So what could be more unexpected than, not one, but two works by Beethoven scored for the unlikely combination of two oboes and an English horn? Both are products of Beethoven’s early years in Vienna, variously dated between 1794 and 1796, making them roughly contemporaneous with the op. 1 piano sonatas. Neither was published at the time. Beethoven held out the trio, and B&H rejected the Variations when it was offered to them (Oops!). Both represent Beethoven’s lighter side, amiable but finely wrought. The Trio in C, op. 87, was eventually published in 1806, hence the late opus number.
There are two Triebensee surprises. First is that someone bothered to dig his original works out of the archives. Joseph Triebensee (1772–1846), oboist and conductor, was one of the innumerable Bohemian musicians who gravitated toward Vienna during the Classical period. He was also a prolific composer, with 12 comic operas and various orchestral and instrumental works to his credit, but he is remembered today, if at all (along with his father-in-law, Johann Wendt), for making arrangements for winds of Mozart’s operas. (Triebensee has a 10-line entry in the Norton/Grove Concise Encyclopedia, but he is not mentioned in either the Oxford Dictionary or the Harvard Biographical Dictionary.) Among his works were four trios for oboes and English horn, three of which are included in this compilation. They employ a typically Classical four-movement structure and show off the composer’s lyrical bent. Due to his performing experience, no doubt, Triebensee’s writing for double reeds is particularly apt. Incidentally, Triebensee’s B flat Trio is timed at 10:20, exactly the same duration as the first of the four movements of Beethoven’s Trio. The second Triebensee “Surprise” is the theme of his Variations, taken from Haydn’s G-Major Symphony, No. 94, subtitled—you guessed it!
Unless I miss my own guess, the “someone” who dusted off the Triebensee trios was Marilyn Zupnik, who wrote the notes for the booklet. Zupnik, among things, has been a member of the Israel Philharmonic and the Minnesota Orchestra. Kathryn Greenbank is principal oboe of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, and Elizabeth Starr Masoudnia plays English horn for the Philadelphia Orchestra. All are in top form in this delightful program, which was originally recorded in 1996 and was formerly available on the ASV label. Be pleasantly surprised.