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Karel van Steenhoven

Nienke & Pauline Oostenrijk

Arias for soprano and oboe from cantatas by J.S. Bach

  • Type CD
  • Label Challenge Classics
  • UPC 0608917203424
  • Catalog number CC 72034
  • Release date 01 January 1998
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About the album


PAULINE: This is a selection from the many arias from Bach's cantatas. We studied these arias for ages and listened to several recordings in order to select the best pieces for our combination of soprano and oboe. NIENKE: We listened to some arias that we didn't like at first - to the point where we even tried them out in another tempo, when they sounded fantastic. Very strange. PAULINE: Yes, then we realised we'd been listening to an interpretation that didn't work so well. NIENKE: I think these are the most expressive and heartfelt arias. They really touch me. PAULINE: We feel that in these works of Bach the soprano and the oboe are perfectly attuned to each other. The music is splendid. Not only Nienke, but my oboe is also allowed to sing. This is obvious from looking at Bach's scores. There are so many beautiful phrases, but there are frequent places to breathe in a natural manner. NIENKE: The words are difficult to place in context nowadays, but the feelings and emotions conveyed are for all time. If an aria sets out to convey happiness, this is what I feel when I am singing it. Bach is also superbly good at depicting intense sadness. PAULINE: I had to learn to listen more to the text, I'm so focused on the music. But in the aria "Liebster Jesu, mein Verlangen," I'm immediately touched by that depiction of longing. Not religious longing, but something I can feel within myself. NIENKE: In "Ich bin vergnügt mit meinem Glücke" I have in my mind's eye the picture of an intensely happy child. Bach's music sounds exactly like a cavorting child. But it is never pure happiness, there is always some melancholy. Unanswered longing is a feeling he can convey as no one else can. PAULINE: When I was a child there was always music in our house. Our parents were amateur musicians. Father played the flute, mother the piano; she also sang and later played the cello. NIENKE: I well remember how she often used to sing Schubert lieder while cooking. At the kitchen table she was already preparing for the next singing lesson. 
PAULINE: I remember lying in bed listening to my father playing the flute downstairs, and drifting off into a delightful sleep. Even now, if I can't sleep, I try to recall that sound. NIENKE: Pauline wanted to make music from her childhood, but with me that came later. She was always armed with instruments: first recorder and piano, then oboe. When I was a teenager I was still busy with ponies and pop music. PAULINE (laughing): Didn't you listen to Abba? NIENKE: Yes, but I was completely sold on the Carpenters. I still think Karen Carpenter is a great singer. PAULINE: The first time that we officially appeared as a duo was during the Christmas Night service in the Kloosterkerk in The Hague. It was immediately apparent that we were musically compatible. It is all very natural, we don't have to have long discussions about it. NIENKE: I like to colour the sound, to approach the timbre of the instrument as closely as possible when I'm singing. I can do this best with woodwind instruments: flute, clarinet or oboe, it doesn't matter. PAULINE: We both strive for a light, bright sound. You never know, it could be a matter of chromosomes. People say that we do not resemble each other outwardly. But we do have a similar voice and mouth cavity in common. And it's the area round the jaw that you most use to colour the sound, whether as a woodwind player or singer. NIENKE (laughing): I even dreamt once that you were a singer and were winning prizes in competitions. It was confusing. PAULINE: I used to sing in children's choirs, but became fascinated with virtuoso passage-work, so I chose the oboe. But this choice is close to Nienke's instrument, since the oboe is almost a singing voice. At least, that is what I strove for. Now I only sing if I'm sure no one's listening. Something as intimate as the voice, I can't share it with an audience. I feel safer singing through the oboe. NIENKE: I've never had difficulty laying myself open - as long as it's artistically justified. Just showing emotion makes no sense. If as a singer you don't rise above emotions, then it doesn't work with the public. You must make your meaning clear to the audience. Strange to say, I am more vulnerable as a person in company than as a singer. On the concert platform I feel safer than I do in a crowd. My voice as an instrument gives me an incredible sense of security. PAULINE: I see Nienke first and foremost as a musician: the fact that we are sisters who appear in concerts together means little to me. I can certainly understand if the public think it sweet or endearing if two sisters appear together in public, but that feeling doesn't affect us. But when performing with Nienke I often feel as though we're one person. We become interchangeable. NIENKE: If I put on Pauline's Schumann CD, I recognise her breathing straightaway. I hear her even before the music starts. I'd never be able to do that with others. At that moment she's no longer my colleague, but quite clearly my sister. PAULINE: It's the musical bond that's the reason why we work together, not one of us saying: "Why don't I invite my sister along?" If I had the opportunity to record this repertoire with a world-famous singer, I would still do it with Nienke. There are enough singers who I think sing splendidly, but I have also seen that we are an ideal combination for these Bach arias. NIENKE: I enjoyed the recordings so intensely, I felt terrible when it was all over. I experienced it as a few really marvellous days of my life. Being able to sing only Bach for three days in a church, working with fantastic musicians - it was a great privilege. PAULINE: Also the prospect that something will come out of all the work you've put into it for so long. If you're happy with the result, you've achieved something. With earlier CDs I have made, I always listened very critically to the montages that recording companies sent me. This time I did that as well, but only in the second instance. At the beginning I forgot to pay attention, because I leant back and thought: what beautiful music. I could enjoy it straightaway.

© 1998 Tonko Dop
Translation: James Chater


Nancy Chamness

March 7th 2017 08:32
I really need to find a copy of this CD to buy. Do you have any suggestions as to where I might look? I am in the US so I don't know any European rare CD dealers. Pleasse advise. Thank you.

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