Oboe? Oh boy!

By JEFFREY GANTZ  |  January 21, 2011

The band followed that with André Danican Philidor's 1689 masquerade Le mariage de la grosse Cathos — that is, "Fat Kate's Wedding," with Fat Kate originally played, Ruiz told us, by a baritone, and a wistful "Air des yvrognes" during which the musicians managed to sound appropriately hungover. After that, we got the martial cadences of La Steinquerque, which François Couperin wrote to celebrate France's victory at the Belgian village of Steenkerke in 1692, with antiphonal oboe and bassoon letting slip the dogs of war and much mourning (there was dreadful loss of life) before the fanfares and the rejoicing.

After intermission, the band crossed the Channel, offering Henry Purcell's incidental music — mostly airs, minuets, and hornpipes, still very much in the French style — to William Congreve's 1693 play The Double Dealer and then two pieces by George Frideric Handel: a sonata for two oboes and a suite from his 1707 opera Rodrigo. Ruiz described the sonata, for which the oboes were joined by bassoon and theorbo, as a "series of oboe tricks," and he was master of them all, coaxing a dazzling rainbow of sounds out of his instrument. There was no encore, but it's not as if the audience didn't plead for one. Maybe oboe bands are actually "Stuff Many People Like."

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