Byline: Musica Viva

Alan Blanckensee rarely appeared in public without a colourful tie, shoes or shirt. Accordingly, this musical portrait in he and his wife Anne’s memory required a distinctly vibrant palette. Bright virtuosic oboe lines characterise the work, immediately calling Alan to mind. Anne’s presence flows in the piano lines interlaced throughout (she was a pianist and a fine knitter and weaver herself). And their shared love of Bach, whose overtly devotional music spoke to their own deep ties with the Anglican Church, inspires lively textures brimming with counterpoint and compound melody.

The first movement unfolds as a moto perpetuo, driven initially by a delicate piano figure spinning rapidly on the surface. Interestingly, each beat is divided into not four but five semiquavers, lending a unique buoyancy to the broader Allegro Moderato feel. Above this the oboe draws out the long lyrical lines of the main theme, before darting energetically off into a second theme revealing the unique rhythmic possibilities of the quintuple subdivisions. The violin and cello then take up the main theme, with the incessant internal piano motion evolving through several episodes and slowing considerably during a brief Adagio. Oboe fireworks set us off once more and the music builds towards an ecstatic tutti presentation of the main theme before ebbing away to end the movement.

The second movement offers a brief moment of respite between the energetic first and third. Alan’s love of Messiaen is invoked in an extremely slow and searching melody played by the cello and violin, marked dolente espressivo. The underlying harmony remains predominantly major however (as it does for the whole work), giving the mood here a distinctly sacred feel. Two brief sections of misterioso bird-like figures bookend the movement, featuring the oboe in dialogue with the cello and violin.

The third movement Allegro Giocoso opens with a whimsical oboe theme recalling the bright colours of the first, over string pizzicato and bouncing piano figures. Here though, changes of mood come thick and fast taking us through staccato, lyrical, flowing, and dramatic writing all within the first minute. Things rapidly unravel further as I unpack the quintuple rhythms of the first movement to the extreme. Splashes of oboe and piano colour a counterpoint in 5/8 time between violin and cello.

Suddenly we reach a Con Forza in 5/4 in which the piano stubbornly resists, dividing each bar into four and then seven against the strings’ fives. The recapitulation plays further tricks, jumping between denominations of the beat until we then settle in 20/16 time and build toward an angular and exciting finale to end the work.

© Lachlan Skipworth 2020

Experience Lachlan Skipworth's new oboe quartet performed by Diana Doherty and the Streeton Trio on their national tour.