Paul Goodwin "The English Concert" (authentic instruments) Directed from the harpsichord by Trevor Pinnock
All Music Guide
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Ludwig August Lebrun may rightly be considered part of a Mannheim "school", one of a group of leading instrumentalists who worked in the court orchestra, whose reputation had been established a generation earlier under the direction of Johann Sta-mitz. Jakob Lebrun, the composer's father, had been an oboist in Stamitz's orchestra, and Ludwig August studied oboe in Mannheim before taking a full position in the orchestra in 1767. After 1772 he performed increasingly outside the Mannheim court and rapidly acquired an international reputation as an oboist; from 1778 he essentially pursued an international career, although he continued to receive a substantial salary from court, and appeared in the most prestigious concert series in Europe (including the Concert Spirituel in Paris in 1779). While the second generation of Mannheim musicians may have ceded to other centres Stamitz's position in the avant-garde of symphonic writing, the reputation of the orchestra and in particular of its wind players was maintained. In his famous contemporary description of the Mannheim orchestra the music historian Charles Burney commented that "there are more solo players, and good composers in this [orchestra], than perhaps in any other ... in Europe; it is an army of generals, equally fit to plan a battle, as to fight it". Like many of the virtuosi in the Mannheim orchestra, Lebrun was also a composer of note, writing a variety of works but specializing in brilliantly idiomatic works for his own instrument.
Lebrun's Concerto in D minor is one of six oboe concertos published posthumously by Johann Andre of Offenbach in 1804; the work itself probably dates from the mid-1770s. It contains, as one might expect from a Mannheim composer, effective orchestral writing, including a number of techniques which have been associated in particular with Mannheim. In the first movement, for instance, the first solo entry is prepared by a long orchestral crescendo (almost half the opening ritornello), much of it over a pedal point and culminating in a dramatic unison cadence figure. Far from representing a mannered orchestral idiom, however, this concerto is above all notable for a lyricism which suggests an operatic influence on Lebrun at least as important as that of the Mannheim orchestral style. This quality is most apparent in the Grazioso second movement, a simple rondo in which dramatic episodes of orchestral writing (often emphasizing unexpected references to minor keys by unison writing) alternate with a melodious oboe refrain.
The first movement also integrates virtuosity and lyricism, but on a much larger scale than in the second movement. The large-scale structural articulation of the movement, however, relies on dramatic orchestral gestures, the hallmark of the Mannheim orchestral style. Virtuoso writing for orchestra and soloist is most prominent in the third movement, a cheerful rondo in D major. Figurative display by the soloist is prominent in the episodes, while the recurrence of the rondo refrain is characterized by striking reorchestration, including prominent parts for orchestral wind instruments, especially in the exuberant ending.
Lebrun's marriage in 1778 to the famous singer Franziska Danzi, and the increasing number of European tours they made together from this date, coincided with the v removal of the court of Karl Theodor from I Mannheim to Munich and with the incipient decline of the famous Mannheim or-* chestra. It was on a visit to Mannheim in 1778, shortly before the removal of the court to Munich, that Mozart wrote two flute concertos in partial fulfilment of a commission by the amateur flautist Dejean (obtained for the composer through the Mannheim flute player Wendling). One of these concertos, K. 314 in D major, also exists as an Oboe Concerto in C major, and it is now accepted that the version for oboe is the earlier of the two, probably written in 1777 for the Salzburg oboist Ferlendis and subsequently reworked in Mannheim for Dejean.
The Oboe Concerto was apparently a great success in Mannheim. In a letter of 14 February 1778 Mozart remarked that Friedrich Ramm, a colleague of Lebrun, "played for the fifth time my oboe concerto written for Ferlendis". Mozart's visit to Mannheim significantly influenced his orchestral writing: however, while the clarity and formal balance of the Oboe Concerto is prophetic of his concertos of the 1780s, the orchestral writing here stands more in the tradition of his earlier violin concertos written in Salzburg. The orchestra is relatively small and plays a mainly supportive role in the work: in the first movement the initial solo section is more than twice the length of the first ritornello; the second ritornello is only nine bars in length and the final one only 15 bars. To a considerable extent the soloist dominates, and the appeal of the concerto rests largely on the quality of Mozart's melodic invention and on the virtuosity of the figurative writing for the soloist both in modula-tory sections and in the episodes of the third-movement Rondo. C. P. E. Bach wrote his Oboe Concerto in E flat (Helm 468, Wq. 165) and another oboe concerto (Helm 466, Wq. 164) around 1765, while working at the court of Frederick the Great in Berlin. Both works exist in alternative versions as keyboard concertos, but the priority of the oboe versions is suggested by a sketch for the keyboard arrangement at the end of the autograph manuscript of the E flat concerto, and by Bach's comment that his compositions included "49 solo concertos for keyboard and other instruments, the last group of which I have transcribed for keyboard".
Bach's Berlin years were dominated by a large and remarkable output of solo keyboard music, in which he established an original and highly expressive style, many typical features of which are apparent in the E flat Oboe Concerto. The thematic basis of the first movement, for instance, is presented in the initial ritornello not as a succession of a few clearly articulated themes but as a continuous complex of short phrases. The repeated-note, crotchet-minim (quarter note-half note) idea heard at the outset is, however, a dominating feature which articulates each subsection, imparting unity to a rich succession of ideas. Typically the soloist does not simply restate this material in the first solo section. Recurring material is highly embellished and performed in dialogue between soloist and orchestra, the dialogue frequently emphasized by abrupt changes in dynamics.
Burney commented that Bach "possesses every style but he has chiefly confined himself to the expressive". This expressive manner is exemplified in the slow movement, where the phrase structure is often irregular, syncopated rhythms dominate much of the material, and a proliferation of dynamic markings, mostly indicating abrupt contrasts, characterize the thematic material. Here too we find the elaborate ornamental writing and lyrical chromaticism that are typical of Bach.
The last movement is dominated by a theme which is more popular and "galant" in character than any other in the concerto but, as in much of Bach's keyboard music, it is the apparently naive thematic material which gives rise to Bach's most "fantastic" harmonic feats. The movement is remarkable for the dramatic opposition of major and minor keys (E flat major and minor in the first ritornello and third solo sections, B flat major and minor in the first solo and second ritornello), and for the scope of the modulations in the developmental second solo and third ritornello sections. It is characteristic of Bach that the movement undoubtedly designed to appeal to the Liebhaber should none the less bear such a strong stamp of the composer's individuality.