Friday, February 17, 2012: Woodwinds, Please …

HeckelphoneWoodwinds, Please, with the Works

The Sukova Hall at the Rudolfinum has the feel of a Victorian sitting room. It’s the perfect setting for an intimate mid-day recital.

The most recent concert in the Prague Symphony Orchestra’s Lunch Recitals series offered a smorgasbord of woodwinds, in particular, the oboe and its nearest cousins the oboe d’amore, the English horn, the bassoon, and the rare heckelphone. There were also appearances by the double bass and harpsichord.

The musical selections were organized by the Philharmonic’s principle oboist Ivan Séquardt. Starting out with a smattering of solo movements and duets, the fourth selection finally was given to the star of the recital, the hecklephone.

The particular hecklephone owned by the Philharmonic is a bright, shiny, candied-apple-toned beauty. Mr Séquardt took a moment to show it off and tell a bit of its history. [Note: You can read Opus Osm’s own introduction to the heckelphone in Katie Perkin’s article of Feb 3; click here: Lunch with … .] Mr Séquardt noted that few pieces have been written for the heckelphone. For this day’s performance, the oboist himself arranged movements from a Mozart sonata, and the Symphony in F Major by Pergolesi, featuring the harpsichord and double bass with the heckelphone.


An early heckelphone, c 1870. The Czech Philharmonic's recent lunchtime concert offered a more modern variety.

While it would have been nice to get a taste of what the heckelphone sounded like on its own, its rich tone nonetheless shone out in the trio. Penetrating and majestic, the heckelphone was a nice contrast to the bass and harpsichord.

A Lunchtime Course in a Variety of Woodwinds

Mr Séquardt had laid the groundwork for appreciating the sound of the heckelphone by first opening the concert with a selection of oboe, oboe d’amore, and English horn pieces. With each added course provided by a new instrument, you could tonally distinguish and appreciate the subtle differences between them.

You could get a real sense of color and pitch for the oboe from the first selection, an oboe solo of Six Metamorphoses after Ovid by Benjamin Britten. It was an excellent starting point for comparing and contrasting the other woodwinds. Longer, drawn out notes featured in the movement “Phaeton” (as the character rode toward the sun and then fell to Earth) contrasted with “Narcissus” (a piece of tranquil fixation, flirting between classical sounds and jazz elements).

Britten breaks up many of the phrases with a sustained, held note, which gives the audience a sense of just how difficult and demanding a woodwind instrument is to play. Mr Séquardt’s own deep concentration lent an air of perfected craftsmanship.

Four Duets for Oboe and English Horn, pastoral chamber music by French composer Eugene Bozza, nicely highlighted the harmonic interplay between these two instruments. The English horn looks like an oboe, just a bit longer and pitched a fifth lower. While Mr Séquardt played the English horn, Liběna Sequardtová played the oboe.

oboe damore

A modern oboe d'amore

Another solo sequence, this time from Telemann, featured the oboe d’amore. It’s the mezzo-soprano of the oboes. Slightly larger than the standard oboe, it’s less reedy in tone, a bit louder, yet still serene. Here the slower andante and grave movements of Sonata for Oboe D’Amore in A Major really allowed the instrument to sing. The full, beautiful notes resonated stunningly in the hall and you could pinpoint the sound and differences between the oboe d’amore and the oboe.

The final piece, Mozart’s Sonata for Two Pianos in D Major, was rearranged by Mr Séquardt for two oboes, bassoon, harpsichord, and double bass. The interlocking melodies and simultaneous cadences, a classic signature of Mozart’s compositions, found a sort of echo and response between the five instruments on stage. It was like watching a lively conversation in melody form. The quintet played an adagio and rondo movement. Then the audience called them all back on stage for a double encore of two additional movements.

All in all, it was a memorable way to spend lunchtime at the Rudofininum: taste-testing different oboes, reveling in the round, satisfying tone of the double reed, and adding interesting information to your store of understanding about music.

Sometimes you really can have your cake and eat it too. — oo

– Katie Perkins

Photo Credits: Top: Bigfoto

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