Alex Klein was one of the most brilliant oboe players of his generation, a young man of just 30 who won the principal oboe chair in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. That was in 1995. But within two years, he started to develop focal dystonia in his left hand, a nerve ailment that involves a loss of motor control. In December 2003, just a year after he won a Grammy Award for his recording of Richard Strauss's Oboe Concerto, he was forced to leave the orchestra.
Klein’s story didn't end there, however. He has become an in-demand oboe professor at his alma mater, Oberlin Conservatory, and he is working again as a soloist too, even if he only plays for brief periods to prevent strain in his hand. Recently, the Chicago-based Cedille Records reissued a recording of eight Vivaldi Oboe Concertos Klein made when he was in his late 20s. It’s our Album of the Week.
To some degree, the album reveals how Klein pushed himself, taking on some of the most challenging works in the oboe repertoire and playing them for everything they’re worth. Even so, one never gets the sense that he is flaunting his technique for its own sake. In the Concerto in A minor, Klein demonstrates not only speed and dexterity but also the ability to create changes of musical character within the space of a single phrase. The particularly challenging Concerto in F has similar traits: a suave tone, unobtrusive but highly decorative ornaments and imaginative phrasing.
Vivaldi is sometimes knocked for having written the same concerto 500 times over, yet much to Klein’s credit, one never feels overwhelmed by the similarities of these works. If you’ve spent time with the composer’s violin concertos, his oboe concertos offer an ideal next step.
Vivaldi Oboe Concertos
Alex Klein, oboe
New Brandenburg Collegium
Anthony Newman, conductor