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CHAMBER REVIEW
Ukiah Symphony / Sunday, February 21, 2021
Beth Aiken, oboe and English horn; Tom Aiken, harpsichord

Tom Aiken and Beth Aiken

NOVEL OBOE-HARPSICHORD RECITAL FROM AIKEN DUO IN UKIAH

by Terry McNeill
Sunday, February 21, 2021

Oboe and harpsichord recitals are a rare North Bay event, even in a pandemic environment where a formal hall setting isn’t available. So it was a delight Feb. 21 to experience on the Ukiah Symphony’s website a recital by Symphony oboist Beth Aiken and harpsichordist husband Tom.

The Aiken home visuals were simple and concert dress was absent, but the six-foot Flemish single manual blue case harpsichord had a soundboard lavishly decorated with flower designs, and Ms. Aiken played both a conventional oboe and a baroque oboe, along with an English horn. Each of the composers in the 33-minute recital were mostly unknown to this reviewer, and each piece had announcements by the performers without attendant printed title information on the screen.

Beginning with Chris Lastovicka’s “Laska” the English horn sounded full in the small room, Ms. Aiken playing without score and with beguiling melancholy through the four minutes. Two works from Ross Edwards followed, one "Yanada" meaning moon in Australian Aboriginal language, the highlights being the long solo oboe line and high register upward scale passages, with several dark night visuals of animals and the moon. I think the animals were kangaroos. An odd juxtaposition of music and art.

Mr. Aiken performed a short solo by composer Edward Mclean, a fantasy-like first movement ("Brise") from his Sonata, and “Incantations.” A two-manual 18th Century German style instrument was used. The three-movement "Incantations" had fast second movement, though quite relaxed in tempo, and featured the Baroque oboe and a long plaintive introduction that reminded one of the haunting prelude to the third act of Wagner’s opera “Tristan and Isolde.”

Ms. Aiken played from score with lovely echo effects in combination with the harpsichord line. Instrumental balances in this work and throughout were excellent, and in the Andante finale’s lingering ending the feeling was peaceful with long-held oboe notes. According to the composer's comments, the solo oboe sections were based upon an interest in native American flute music.

The Aiken duo also performed Ennio Mariconne’s “Gabriel’s Oboe” from the 1986 British drama film “The Mission,” and here Ms. Aiken chose the Baroque instrument. Only three minutes in length, the performance was underscored by Mr. Aiken’s symmetrical chords and soft arpeggios.