Double Reed Review of Plumeri Conducts Plumeri
Plumeri Conducts Plumeri
Windflower – Pride of Baltimore
Sara Watkins, Oboe, Moscow Philharmonic, Johnterryl Plumeri conducting.
This CD released back in 1995, is a wonderful memento of the unique artistry and lyric gift of oboist Sara Watkins, whose cruelly sudden death in December of 1997 (when she was only 52) still seems hard to imagine. When Sara was appointed to the principal oboe position of the National Symphony Orchestra (of Washington, DC) – in 1973 – by it’s then music director, Mstislav Rostropovich, she was one of the very first women to occupy a principal oboe chair in a major orchestra. Upon her departure from the orchestra in 1981, she accepted a teaching position at the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore and had embarked on a promising career as a conductor and as a chamber music player with her husband, the English baritone, John Shirley-Quirk. At the time of her death, she was music director of the Annapolis (MD) Symphony Orchestra. In the liner notes, Plumeri refers to Windflower as a pastoral tone poem for oboe and orchestra, written in dedication to his mother, whose ancestry was Scots-Irish. He also extends his thanks to the soloist, and to Florida-based oboist (and conductor) Patricia Stenberg (deceased in 2002) and her Sarasota-Manatee Community Orchestra for their inspiration and support.
There is a lovely neo-romantic muse at work in Windflower, and the influence of the lyrical folk music of the northern British Isles is almost immediately apparent. Also apparent is the intense vocal vibrato in Sara’s rich colorful tone, certainly part of the heritage of her distinguished teachers, John Mack and Ray Still. Paul Snook, writing in Fanfare Magazine calls Windflower “a meditative thirteen-minute tone poem for oboe and orchestra which is modeled on pieces like Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending and is fraught with a comparable kind of pantheistic mysticism.” The rich string-based accompaniment provides a lovely cushion for the melismatic oboe melodies; there are some dramatic moments for horns and tympani at the emotional peaks of the work. The piece is quite “user-friendly” reaching a high G only once (to my ears), and presenting only occasional technical challenges (as in the potentially awkward slurred interval low Eb-Bb and back); all deftly handled here. There are even a couple of “bent pitches”, reminding us of the bagpipe no doubt.
The Pride of Baltimore, a twenty-five minute narrative tone poem, is the featured work on this CD. There is a dramatic sense of pacing apparent all through this work, as well as an expert use of orchestral color. It tells the story of the tragic loss at sea (in 1986) of a century old refurbished clipper ship.
Both works, conducted by the composer, are expertly performed, with technical security never in question. The recording quality is magnificent. Admirers of this composer/conductor will be interested to know that he has continued his collaboration with the Moscow Philharmonic; their recording of the Tchaikovsky Symphonies 4, 5 & 6 are due for release on the same label in January of 2007.