BAX Arnold, Oboe Quintet

Tempo molto moderato – Allegro moderato – Tempo primo
Lento espressivo
Allegro giocoso – Più lento – Vivace


Bax wrote his Oboe Quintet in 1922, just after completing the first of his seven symphonies. The inspiration for writing a work for oboe and strings was the playing of the great oboist Leon Goossens, to whom the work is dedicated. Bax’s biographer Lewis Foreman has drawn attention to the Irish elements in the music of this work: not only the jig-like final movement, but also in some of the atmospheric writing earlier in the work. The first movement begins with some richly harmonized string chords, and the oboe’s first entrance is rhapsodic, and rather melancholy. The main Allegro moderato has a strong, muscular drive and also demonstrates Bax’s brilliant instrumental technique, drawing a remarkable range of colours from the strings. A wistful recollection of the opening music brings the movement to a serene close. The slow movement opens with a beautiful first violin melody (again, suggestive of Irish folk music). The oboe enters with something rather different: a wistful, cadenza-like passage that is then developed with the strings. While there is plenty of veiled lyricism in this movement, Bax always remains a little questioning, and there’s a slightly uneasy calm at the close. The finale begins in overtly Irish high spirits, but this movement isn’t quite the romp that the opening might suggest. As Lewis Foreman put it, ‘all too soon clouds cover the sun and the spectres return’ in a passage that is slower and more reflective. The dance-like music returns but even at the close there is a brief moment of reflection before the final cadence.


Nigel Simeone © 2011


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