Kingston Chamber Orchestra

KCO Concert in November 2010

MozartSymphony No 35
JacobOboe Concerto no 2 (soloist Karen Gibbard)
StravinskyPulcinella Suite

The concert included a rare performance of Gordon Jacob's Oboe Concerto No 2, in the presence of his widow Margaret Jacob Hyatt. There are some photos from the concert on the gallery page.

Here is a review of the concerto by Dr Geoff Ogram.

On Saturday November 13th 2010, Kingston Chamber Orchestra (KCO) under the baton of Andy Meyers performed a nicely-balanced programme of three works at All Saints Church, Kingston-upon-Thames. Sandwiched between Mozart's Haffner Symphony and Stravinsky's Pulcinella Suite was the novelty item, Gordon Jacob's second Oboe Concerto, played by Karen Gibbard, to end the first half.

Jacob's first Oboe Concerto, dating from 1933, was originally written for his pupil Evelyn Rothwell, who was the first to perform it, but her tutor, Leon Goossens, rather took it over as his own and later gave the "official" first hearing. Concerto No 2 is dated 1956 and was definitely dedicated to Goossens, who performed it in April of that year with the Leningrad Philharmonic, conducted by Clarence Raybould, during a tour of the Soviet Union.

He played it again a few months later in August, in a broadcast performance with the BBC Symphony Orchestra under Ian Whyte. There is no firm evidence of any further public performances of the work in the last fifty years or so, until now. Suddenly, in 2010, two concert performances have been given!

In March, Jonathan Tobbutt played it with the Leeds University School of Music Philharmonia, conducted by Eno Koco, and now, in November, Karen Gibbard with the KCO and Andy Meyers.

Kingston Chamber Orchestra

While Concerto No 1 is very strongly "English pastoral" in mood throughout (and none the worse for it!), that particular quality is to be found principally in the second movement of Concerto No 2, although there are pastoral moments in the two outer movements. But, overall, Jacob allows the oboe to be more capricious. The work is notable for its alternation of slow and fast tempi within the same movement.

At the very beginning, the orchestra introduces what is to become the main allegro theme but the oboe responds meditatively and progresses to a sinuous, almost wistful theme with a slow chugging accompaniment, beautifully captured by the soloist and the KCO at the November concert. Eventually the oboe plays the main theme at a quick pace.

A little later, a short phrase played pizzicato on strings is taken up by the oboe as a most engaging syncopated theme, first played with light staccato. Oboe and orchestra play this a couple of times and the orchestra revels in repeating it loudly and boisterously. After a cadenza, the opening themes are briefly recapitulated and, surprisingly, the boisterous theme reappears very quietly to end the movement as the oboe decides to slow everything down yet again.

All these changes of tempo require careful observance of rallentando indications in the score, or judicious use of rubato, and these transitions were achieved most effectively by both soloist and orchestra. The slow movement, quite languid in character, was taken at just the right pace.

Slow Movement

In my experience, some performers have tended to rush Jacob's slow movements, and the subtlety of the music and mood can be lost. Not so with Andy Meyers and the KCO. There was much delicate playing both here and in the slow middle section of the final movement, matched throughout by the soloist. The final movement itself is for the most part energetic and exhilarating, with another taxing cadenza for the soloist.

After the slower middle section, with another haunting tune to savour, the main theme returns. The fast pace eventually leads to an even more frenetic one, only to be stopped short by the wayward oboe, which once again slows down for a few bars, before the final rapid outburst that ends the work.

I believe this concerto to be one of Gordon Jacob's best works. With any "new" work, performers have to assimilate the music in a relatively short time and attempt to get the best out of it. That does not always lead to a convincing interpretation. Having studied the score for over fifty years, and with the benefit of listening to my early tape of the 1956 broadcast, I feel I know how it should sound.

Sparkling Performance

For me, the Kingston performance was impressive; it was a mature reading, excellently accomplished by both soloist and the KCO and it received a most warm response from the audience. Karen Gibbard's sparkling performance, solidly supported by the KCO, displayed all the variations in mood demanded by the score, and the lovely sound of the oboe (surely one of Jacob' favourite instruments, if he had any!) remains in the memory.

The 1956 review in The Musical Times of the Goossens broadcast included a comment to the effect that the work was full of the good tunes typical of the composer. Over fifty years later, "good tunes" was a comment on the lips of several members of the audience at Kingston.

Maybe they will now be more aware of Gordon Jacob's contribution to the musical wealth of this country. His music has certainly received a great boost from this concert performance.