Albrecht Mayer's 'Bonjour Paris'

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Albrecht Mayer is a rarity: an oboe soloist with a major-label recording contract. With a "day job" as the principal oboist in the Berlin Philharmonic he also gives solo recitals and masterclasses around the world. Our Album of the Week shows just why Mayer is in such demand, a collection of popular melodies from the French repertoire, with a world premiere for good measure.

The oboe is one of the most soloistic of symphony orchestra instruments and yet it rivals the tuba for the number of concertos in its name. Sure, Mozart and Richard Strauss composed oboe concertos, and Baroque composers had a love affair with the double-reed instrument (Vivaldi wrote over 15 oboe concertos). But even those pieces are rarely performed and this notoriously cantankerous instrument is perhaps best known for its role in tuning the orchestra before every concert.

With this collection Mayer is principally concerned with showing off the oboe’s singing qualities, applying a velvety tone and nimble technique to a variety of transcriptions. Chief among them are several piano pieces adapted for oboe, including Satie’s celebrated Gymnopedie No. 1, Debussy’s La Fille aux cheveux de lin and Clair de lune and Ravel’s Pavane pour une infante defunte. Works originally for orchestra (Faure’s Pavane) and voice (Reynaldo Hahn’s A Chloris) also turn up.

The album contains one world premiere, the contemplative Ete ("summer,") by Swiss composer Gotthard Odermatt. Like the arrangements, it is perfectly enjoyable. But perhaps the biggest surprise is Jean Françaix’s L'Horloge De Flore (1959) a suite that depicts a giant musical flowering clock, which for every hour of the day and night describes a plant in music, from the gladiolus to the cactus. The deftly orchestrated music brings together Mayer's stylish playing with the brilliant accompaniments of the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields.

Bonjour Paris
Albrecht Mayer, oboe
The Academy of St. Martin in the Fields
Mathias Monius, conductor
Decca
Available at Arkivmusic.com

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Comments [19]

Michael Meltzer

Hans:
Please forgive the typo. I did it to Midge Woolsey, also.

Feb. 26 2011 09:09 PM
Michael Meltzer

HansL:
You do put words in my mouth. I am not talking about my taste when I say "standard repertoire" but my long experience as a wholesale sheet music buyer in the retail music business, and as a board member of a major piano teaching organization. Debussy preludes are standard repertoire, whether you or I like them or not. WQXR is only first learning what that is.
I am not centering on daily, minute-to-minute choices here, but on the granting of an award, one which impacts on careers and also serves as a major sales impetus to a commercial product (CD), an activity really inapppriate to a public radio station, unless it is linked to sponsorship by way of financial support, in which case federal law mandates disclosure of that fact with every single airing.

Feb. 26 2011 09:07 PM
Hans from Yonkers

@Michael Meltzer
Here's a question: would you ask WNYC's newsroom to justify why it chooses to open a newscast with some stories and not others? Would you ask them why they turn to some sources in reporting stories? Perhaps, but you're not likely to get such a detailed answer.

Ultimately, as listeners and donors, we have to put our trust in the media product a public radio station presents. It may not always be to your specific tastes (maybe they don't believe the Debussy preludes are such hot stuff) but life is always full of subjective decisions. These people are professionals who don't need to be told how to do their jobs by others like you or me.

Feb. 26 2011 08:29 PM
Michael Meltzer

Not to confuse the issue, Albrecht Mayer does beautiful work and that is not in dispute. Simply, for his CD to earn "Album of the Week" distinction, others, perhaps others as beautiful or more, must be denied that distinction, which denies at the same time a career stepping-stone. How is the decision made and by whom?
By a station that can't hear the difference between orchestra and string orchestra, or whether a Hummel piece is in major or minor? A station that is unaware that Debussy Preludes are standard repertoire for the piano, much less the solo preludes and etudes of Rachmaninoff and Scriabin?
I'm sorry, but if you add in the daily errors in posting, there is too much to indicate that WQXR management is very new to the field of classical music and its standards, and its qualifications for making decisions that impact on careers bear some looking at, particularly since this is Public Radio. Why are there secrets here?

Feb. 26 2011 03:28 PM
Neil Schnall

Trust, much like respect, must be earned.

WQXR could earn more trust by being forthcoming about its policies and mission, and by addressing the concerns that have been raised regarding their programming practices, as repeatedly requested by Mr. Meltzer, among others of us.

Appealing for our monetary support by reminding us that they're the only game in town equates them more to an electrical utility, or a sewer system. It's not good enough! If they showed more respect for their listenership, by, for example, showing responsiveness to the serious queries and comments they solicit on this site, they could earn more respect in return.

Feb. 26 2011 03:17 PM

Dear Mr. Meltzer, you really are a true investigator. Where is your trust in the people who run WQXR. Music is emotion and the choice of the Album of the Week will always be influenced by emotion. Thank God for that. I understand that public radio is in danger by some rule where your Congress has to vote about that issue. Openness is a good thing. If this means that everything should be packed into rules and justification I think there will never a surprise in our life. WQXR surprises me every week. The Album of this week "Bonjour Paris". is beautiful and is now in my cd player over here in my little village in The Netherlands.

Feb. 26 2011 09:17 AM
Michael Meltzer

WQXR:
Those are beautiful words, but the CD's do not decide among themselves which one "stands out."
1. "An engaging musical personality" describes many, many more artists than are chosen.
2. "Creative repertoire choices" reallybegs the question in view of the plethora of transcriptions selected.
3. "Stand out from the pack" has no esthetic meaning whatsoever, it would apply to anaything selected.
How does a newly recorded artist approach you? How do you assemble the CD's to be reviewed? Who does the reviewing?
Do you understand that the unusual attention and promotion your selection provides comes to bear on the progress of careers? It is an award, and every not-for-profit competition and artistic achievement award granting organization in the world makes public its process of application and the names of its jurors.
Is your very private selection process appropriate to the public institution that you characterize yourself as when you ask for donations, or for your audience to use their names on your behalf and write to Congress?

Feb. 24 2011 06:27 PM
WQXR

About Album of the Week
(http://www.wqxr.org/articles/album-week/)

Album of the Week is our weekly spotlight on compelling new recordings. It focuses on creative repertoire choices, engaging musical personalities, or artistic statements that stand out from the pack. You can hear the Album of the Week throughout the day and evening on WQXR.

Feb. 24 2011 06:08 PM
Michael Meltzer

WQXR:
Your link, http://www.wqxr.org/articles/album-week/, supplies no information whatsoever about your standards, how CD's come to your attention or your process of selection. It is only a recap of past choices.

Feb. 24 2011 06:00 PM
WQXR

To those who have questions about our featured album selections, please refer to the description on our main Album of the Week page:
http://www.wqxr.org/articles/album-week/

(See "About Album of the Week," on the right-hand side of the page)

Thank you. We appreciate your feedback.

Feb. 24 2011 05:34 PM
Aaron from NYC

There seems to be little discussion of the merits of this recording. Albrecht Mayer is an amazing artist, and this is a gorgeous recording, with lush orchestrations featuring an under-appreciated solo instrument. That should be enough!

Feb. 24 2011 04:44 PM
Michael Meltzer

Mr. Schnall's appropriate comment notwithstanding, an occasional dismal choice is only human, to be expected, and probably forgivable. Not to get away from the point, how and by whom is the choice made? Is it done in a manner consistent with the open and cooperative spirit of a public institution? Is it free of influences inconsistent with that spirit?
Tell us.

Feb. 24 2011 04:00 PM
Neil Schnall

Michael,
Actually, this Albrecht Mayer album features transcriptions of piano pieces. That, alone, would probably have been enough to justify its selection by the programming committer at WQXR. Any excuse to play a transcription rather than the original makes it a shoo-in.

Feb. 24 2011 02:52 PM
Neil Schnall

Overall, I believe there is more musical content aired per hour than during the NY Times ownership era. I also don't think the on-air personalities talk any more than they ever did.

However, I continue to be dismayed at the blatant hypocrisy inherent in the claim that this is now a non-commercial radio station. I'd "buy" that claim if sponsorship announcements ended simply with the name of the sponsor. The moment it goes from "blahblahblah film company" to "currently featuring such-and-such movie starring who-even-cares", it has become a commercial advertisement, pure and simple, no matter how brief. I cannot stand being lied to, and that's exactly what they're doing.

Promos this week for Bill McGlaughlin's excellent program "Exploring Music" make the point that Handel's reputation appears to rest on Messiah, Water Music (or was it the Royal Fireworks?)... whichever.... So what does WQXR do to commemorate his birthday? Feature a "showdown" between those 3 works, ending up playing a mere half-hour of excerpts from Messiah. There were a few other Handel works scattered during the day. But why did they choose, e.g., to play Schiff's recording of a Bach English Suite in the evening instead of one of Handel's keyboard suites. Nothing against the Bach, which I enjoyed hearing, but is there any thought process involved? How do such shenanigans counteract that stereotypical view of Handel? Without Handel, we likely would not have had a Beethoven or Brahms. He certainly composed enough and is important enough to justify a Handel Day like the recent Mozart Day.

Remember on Samuel Barber's last birthday, instead of playing Horowitz's premiere recording of his piano sonata (or any recording of it at all, for that matter) they programmed another Horowitz selection of almost equal length.

OK, enough of this particular rant... I'll just go off humming to myself... "dumb de dumb dumb dumb dumb..."

Feb. 24 2011 12:21 PM
Michael Meltzer

John:
Payola is payola if "support" is paid sponsorship, of any kind, of a specific recording that is not announced as sponsorship at EACH airing of the recording. It doesn't matter if its a paid ad, a contribution or a bribe. None of those are violations of federal law, it is the secrecy that is a violation, and the penalties are severe.

Feb. 24 2011 07:56 AM
John from not manhattan

When is payola not payola? When public radio and television refer to supporters rather than advertisers. Do you believe that there's no connection at all between financial support and the announcements which run on and on, unlike commercial ads, and which come from organizations desiring a plug to promote sales? We're asked for our money, but we don't get the input these businesses have. This has a direct bearing on what we hear. As for the promised "more music", there's not one minute more and likely less as some of the presenters like Jeff and Midge would rather hear the sound of their own voices than play music. Yesterday there were complaints at the round up of usual suspects for the showdown feature. This is part of the same phenomenon of keeping to what sells, and ignoring listeners' wishes. I want to be able to listen to classical music, of which there's plenty that doesn't involve religious music or Aaron Copland conducted by Lenny. Do you have to think very hard to see how much airtime is taken away from music by Handel, Bach, Mozart and all by these points? Just accept that we have to take what they choose to play, like it or not.

Feb. 24 2011 07:13 AM
Michael Meltzer

To Jen:
All very interesting, but what I'm referring to is the time-worn rhetoric used by Congressional opponents to Public Radio that P.R. has become the media organ of the left. The Tea Party has reinforced that rhetoric.
Not my principal point anyway. I'm concerned with the mechanics of how a commercial CD becomes the subject of Public Radio advertising and promotion, and what does an aspiring and possibly deserving artist do to come to WQXR's attention. So far, request for that information is stonewalled, and it appears to be a closed loop, none of the public's business.
That is unacceptable.

Feb. 23 2011 11:28 PM
Jen

I find it interesting that it's inferred that public radio should be unbiased and that the government should be able to keep it so. I am one of those people who are (inferred negatively in your comment) too young to remember something from 1960, but am a classical music instructor who has been actively involved in the pursuit for over 15 years as an instructor and over 30 years as a performer. One thing I know is that little to do with music is unbiased. Another thing I feel strongly about is that little to do with the media is unbiased. I'm also fairly certain that few of the elected officials and people employed by tax dollars are particularly focused on that fact. Maybe I'll feel differently when I'm older, but decades of experience have formed these views pretty firmly.

Feb. 23 2011 10:30 PM
Michael Meltzer

For the third week, I am inquiring as to how recordings become eligible for consideration as "Album of the Week" and how the selection process is conducted. The management of WQXR may be too young to remember the Congressional hearings that rocked the broadcast industry in 1959 and resulted in the "Payola" legislation of 1960, wherein Congress laid down extremely stern mandates about music selection disclosure for private and public broadcasters alike.
I mention that not to infer suspicion of any malpractice, if I were suspicious I would be writing to the FCC, not WQXR. I am simply underscoring that my inquiries are far from frivolous and that the issue is far from trivial. At a time when Congress is threatening to cut funding of Public Radio because of widespread Congressional perception, right or wrong, that the industry has become editorially biased and its management has become "ivory tower," openness in public broadcast management should go without saying. Public disclosure should be the order of the day, undertaken cheerfully and with the awareness that the public is not only your audience, but your employer.

Feb. 23 2011 12:15 PM

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About Albums of the Week

The Albums of the Week are compelling new recordings that we spotlight every week. These include creative repertoire choices, engaging musical personalities and artistic statements that stand out from the pack. You can hear the Albums of the Week throughout the day and evening on WQXR.

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