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The Consort

Frances Jones

Volume 67, Summer 2011

Alessandro Rolla Quartet for oboe, violin,
viola, and cello in C major, BI 425
Edition HH, @Mozart series,
HH 285.FSP, Bicester, 2010 (pbk, 12.95)
ISMN 978 1 905779 66 6

Alessandro Rolla (1757-1841) was a teacher of violin and viola at the Regio Conservatorio di Musica in Milan. His compositions include both material for teaching purposes and showpieces to be performed in the annual examinations there. He also wrote music for the woodwind students, and this Romance and Rondo was written in 1814 for a sixteen-year-old oboist, Carlo Ivon. It presents a charming early Romantic companion piece to Mozart's Oboe Quartet K 370, written 33 years earlier with the same instrumentation. The current edition has been prepared from a manuscript score held in the Royal Library in Copenhagen.

The informative Foreword to this new publication tells us that Rolla had been orchestral director at La Scala, Milan, where he was responsible for the first performances of a number of Rossini's operas, and ornate figurations in operatic bel canto style are evident throughout this work. The music is elegant and pleasing, with additional glimpses of the palette of Haydn, Beethoven and Hummel.

Rolla not only writes an elaborate oboe part; he demonstrates his familiarity with violin technique in a particularly demanding violin part, with much technical virtuosity and an exceptional range extending to top A, two and a half octaves above the open E string. There are extensive passages where the oboe is silent, or given a few accompanying notes, while the violin takes centre stage. One is thus led to an interesting conundrum regarding the title of the work. The editor has chosen to replace the composer's title, Picciolo Quartetto per Oboe, Violino Viola, e Violoncello, with the more concise 'Oboe Quartet' which, although it describes the instrumentation, does not give due recognition to the presence of such a soloistic violin part. The viola and cello parts are confined to the role of accompaniment.

A question also arises as to whether there may have been a further bass or keyboard instrument doubling the given cello part, an octave below. On a number of occasions the viola part runs below the cello line. This creates chords in prominant places in surprising inversions, or obscures the shape of the bass line by figuration which overlaps it (for example in bar 3 of the Rondo, or bars 102ff). Although the interplay of cello and viola parts is a deliberate choice of instrumental colour particularly enjoyed by Haydn in some of his string quartets, here the effect does not appear to have the same integrity.

The oboe part displays the full range of technical demands required of students at a Conservatorio, with lyrical playing, florid semiquaver passages, many grace notes and trills, and a tessitura equal to that of Mozart's Quartet, reaching top F. In common with the competition pieces written in similar circumstances for students at the Conservatoire in Paris, it is in a comfortable key and the passagework lies well under the fingers. This is an attractive short piece, which could either take centre stage or make an excellent encore item.

We are grateful to theThe Consort for permission to reproduce this review.
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