In over three decades as a recording artist, Jonathan has built up an impressive array of recorded work, ranging from acclaimed performances of the famous concertos of Richard Strauss and Vaughan Williams to critically lauded solo work in orchestral recordings.
"The RLPO together with conductor Gerard Schwarz form a perfect alliance with Jonathan Small, whose approach is, for me, uncomplicated and altogether musically authentic...nothing is overdone, while making the most of Strauss’ detailed score." - Sarah Devonald, BBC Radio 3, Building a Library
It’s a dilemma for me to choose one of my concerto recordings ahead of the rest, but I’d have to say that this recording of the Strauss would have to be it. All my concertos have been recorded with my own orchestra, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and that makes them all very special.
I’d first played the Strauss as a callow 20 year-old at Snape Maltings, and now have several dozen performances under my belt, including with the RLPO under Janowski, Pešek, Altrichter, Petrenko and others. I was invited by the orchestra to perform the Strauss on several occasions in the autumn of the previous year, in Liverpool and around the region. All these concerts were with the RLPO and our then Music Director, Gerard Schwarz, who had shown a natural instinct for the Richard Strauss’ scores since he first conducted the orchestra. I came to think that if I was ever to record the concerto this was my best opportunity.
I discussed it with RLPO Artistic Planning Director Sandra Parr, and the news was good – we could indeed find a slot in the RLPO’s busy schedule for a three-hour session, but it would have to be on a Saturday morning, with a performance of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony to follow that evening. Astonishingly, maestro Schwarz readily agreed to conduct the session, and it went into the orchestra’s schedule, and I am equally grateful to all my colleagues who played on this recording. It was quite a day!
Simon Foster released the recording on AVIE, as part of a double CD coupled with Strauss’ two biggest symphonies and the Duett-Concertino.
In 2014 BBC Radio 3 commissioned music journalist Sarah Devonald to study over 30 recordings of the Strauss for their Building a Library series. I was thrilled and very honoured when Sarah selected my recording as the recommended version, especially when selected from the company of three generations of world-famous artists. What was most satisfying is that Sarah Devonald selected our performance for the very things that had been most important to me in studying and preparing the concerto.
The whole programme can be heard here, and I commend it to your listening, not only because my recording is recommended, but for Sarah’s insight and understanding of the concerto, the oboe itself and the musical instincts required to successfully perform the Strauss Concerto.
"Few recorded interpretations probe so searchingly into its world of pastoral contemplation"
- Michael Jameson, The Gramophone
This was my first concerto recording and its success was very rewarding. A number of excellent reviews, and The Gramophone nominated it as their recommended version. It came about as part of an extended cycle of recordings EMI made on their Eminence label, Vernon “Tod” Handley conducting Vaughan Williams with the RLPO, and was originally coupled with the Partita for Double String Orchestra, Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis, and other works as an additional CD alongside the cycle of symphonies. Later it was reissued in a new CD alongside the 5th Symphony and Flos Campi. This made more musical sense given the links between the concerto and symphony (see my notes on this under the Writings tab).
The concerto was recorded in one session, and we started with the finale. I remember clearly that we started a short take about two minutes into the finale, and I expected Tod to stop and fix any issues, but we just kept going, and reached the end. That single take formed pretty much the basis of Andrew Keener’s wonderful edit of the finale, and I like to think that’s a strong reason for the sense of élan that I hear in the performance.
We’d had one concert performance a week earlier to prepare the piece, and Tod had invited us to his home in the Wye valley for a wonderful weekend of music, letters and wide-ranging discussion. A totally memorable experience which I truly cherish.
During Libor Pešek’s tenure as RLPO Chief Conductor we recorded much Czech and central European music. Libor also had a keen instinct for French music and we performed much great French repertoire, but recorded almost none. When the RLPO established its in-house recording label, RLPO Live, we decided to put that right. Libor was by then conductor laureate and during one of his visits we were due to perform a French programme including the Francaix.
This CD reflects much of the repertoire from that project, lighter French music as you’ll see, and the recording was made from two concert performances, on consecutive evenings at Philharmonic Hall, with a few edits from rehearsal work. The album was sponsored by several keen supporters and friends of Libor, and by the Püchner company whose instruments I have played throughout my career.
My Francaix recording has proven very popular and is aired regularly on both BBC Radio 3 and Classic FM.
My NAXOS recording of the Alwyn Concerto for Oboe, Strings and Harp was made as part of a centenary cycle of his symphonies, concertos, film music and other works with the RLPO conducted by David Lloyd-Jones.
GIBBS • SCOTT • WRIGHT • PEHKONEN
The great English music expert and advisor Lewis Foreman, with whom I'd worked on some recording projects in the past, called me out of the blue in 2009 and said he was putting together this album for Dutton Epoch, and would I be interested in studying these concertos as soloist? Quite apart from the reward of learning four concertos I'd not come across, two of which were very new, I gained a wonderful friend from across the ocean in the person of Basil Reeve, erstwhile solo oboe of the Minnesota Orchestra USA, who had played the Cyril Scott in his younger days and got in touch with me to congratulate me on this recording. We have become firm friends. For conductor Martin Yates this has proven to be a springboard into more studies and performances of Scott, so all in all, thank you, Lewis!
Composers Wright and Pehkonen, who attended the recording sessions, both honoured me with the dedication of their respective works. I only wish that I could now perform some or all of these beautiful works more in concert.....
During Liverpool's year as European Capital of Culture, composer Mark Simpson was asked to compose a work for Liverpool Philharmonic's Ensemble 1010.Mark's response was to compose a work for solo oboe and ensemble with myself as the soloist. I was immensely proud to give the premiere, recorded and broadcast and now issued on CD. The work is not short of technical challenges, which I relished! It was hugely rewarding to study and I'm most thankful to Mark for his creativity and thinking of me at the time.
In 2014, Jonathan gave a performance of Chinese composer Qigang Chen's thrilling and colorful oboe concerto Extase II (a chamber orchestra version) conducted by Max Lifchitz and accompanied by an ensemble of New York based musicians.
In addition to performing as oboist, Jonathan also conducted two other items on the program - Augusta Read Thomas's Bassoon Concerto with Michael Harley, and Michael Daugherty's Firecracker for Solo Oboe and Ensemble with Johanna Cox.
In 2010, Jonathan gave the UK Premiere of Rodion Shchedrin's Oboe Concerto. You can hear some excerpts in this short preview video below.
If you have Spotify, you can hear all of Jonathan's recordings on this playlist:
If you have Spotify, you can listen to Jonathan's orchestral solo playing on this playlist: