Elaine Douvas

By Dana Abbott

METROPOLITAN OPERA PRINICIPAL OBOE, Elaine Douvas, put three of her gifted students on display at Hidden Valley last Monday (June 17) in a wide-ranging yet conservative concert program. Douvas and students built a program from Albinoni to Shostakovich. The material focused on the oboe’s distinctive timbre, perfect for putting forth melody and its elaboration and ornaments. Of note was the lack of music since 1965, the date of the Shostakovich, and generous use of music arranged for oboe, but written for other instruments.

Douvas led with Beethoven’s Sonata for horn, Op 17, of 1800, written for the virtuoso Giovanni Punto. She admitted to the large audience that oboe players often longed for the magisterial sonority of the horn. Though she could not provide that sonority on her oboe, agility and skill were at her command. Beethoven is at his early best in this score, abundant with invention and finish.

Melissa Hooper played the Concerto sopra motivi dell’opera “La favorita’ di Donizetti by Antonino Pasculli. As the title states this piece found its starting point in Donizetti’s popular opera, skillfully building motifs into a virtuoso display of runs and filigree. 

The first half of the concert closed with the Concerto in C Major for Two Oboes by Tomaso Albinoni, a virtuoso himself on the instrument. For the first time we had idiomatic material written for the instrument. Liam Boisset and Christopher Gaudi played with panache. At the piano Zsolt Balogh supported the entire program with first rate musicality and dexterity.

After the intermission, Gaudi returned for Three Hungarian Folksongs from the District of Csík by Béla Bartók. These were short, the first, suggesting the controlled display of a peacock; the second, At the Fair, more energetic while the third, White Lilies, was stately. Like several of Bartók’s transcriptions of folk material, the key contrasts were muted and the time signatures fluid. Gaudi played the set well, its pungent harmonies contrasting with the concert’s first half.

Liam Boisset is a flamboyant, demonstrative player, at age 24 just announced as principal of the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He was perfectly matched with a divertimento by Bernhard Crusell, a gifted wind player from the early 1800s perhaps better known for his clarinet music. This divertimento was a second piece on the program written specifically for oboe and was shaped like a sonata, with allegro-andante-allegro form. Boisset played beautifully, making the most of the composer’s melodic display and embellishments. The oboe’s strongest suit was clearly on display.

Douvas and Hooper returned to close the program with the well-chosen Five Pieces for two Violins and Piano by Dmitri Shostakovich. In this resetting, the two oboes followed the composer’s lead, mostly in duet with a few individual passages through the contrasting sections, Prelude, Gavotte, Elegy, Waltz and Polka. Within the traditional plan, Shostakovich provided modern harmony and melodic interest that never overstayed its welcome. The piece and the performance brought to mind a comment by the late, great Tatiana Nikolayeva in an encore moment several years ago at a Monterey Symphony concert. She said that some of Shostakovich’s most ingratiating music was in the small pieces, which found much favor with Russian audiences. The audience at Hidden Valley, which included several local oboists, also found much favor with this piece and the entire concert.