Hurd's 'Concerto da Camera', or three ways to play about with an E-flat


Like Dring’s Italian Dance and Head’s Three Pieces, Michael Hurd’s Concerto da Camera is a good piece to have at the ready just in case you are asked to contribute ‘a little something’ to a concert at short notice. The Concerto has the usual three movements and lasts about 13 minutes without being too taxing for either the player or the audience. That’s not to say that it’s a trite easy-listening piece of froth – no, no. Each movement has its own style and character and they’re all very well-written for the oboe. The second movement in particular could easily be performed as a standalone piece and the third sounds very flashy without being too difficult.

For this post, though, I’m going to focus on the longer first movement. From bars 103 to 117 the oboist is playing unaccompanied in a cadenza-like section: I say cadenza-like because there’s no indication that these bars are to be played in free time and the whole section is only a very mildly muddled-up repetition of what has gone before. It’s a baby cadenza, or perhaps a cadenza-ette. It does, however, contain a tricky little corner in bars 109 and 110 (reproduced above), but the plus side is that these bars are great for practising the three different ways to get around that C-Eb-Ab combination.

(Before moving on, I should note that the first movement is marked Andante con moto, so the semiquavers are not really that fast, but they’re not that slow either.)


1. Left-hand Eb sliding to Ab

The first choice available to the player is to play the Ebs which occur in combination with C and Ab with the left-hand Eb key, and slide to the left-hand Ab:


(The Eb marked in blue with the star is also played with the left-hand Eb key.) This method is okay, but can be a wee bit sticky on my oboe, probably because I haven’t had it serviced for over two years now and it could do with a bit of loving care. Anyway, this is probably the most instinctive choice for me because it’s largely how I was taught to deal with passages such as this, but there are other options.

2. Slide from the C key to the Eb with the right-hand little finger

This takes some practice, but it is possible to do this smoothly and it’s very handy if you can do it.


(Note that the blue starred Eb is played using the left-hand Eb key – unless you want to have a go at sliding back and forth, of course, but there does come a point at which you have to ask whether or not you are making it needlessly difficult for yourself!)

Now, my teacher has offered three pieces of advice concerning this method.

  • Don’t use the tip of your finger: slide from the first knuckle joint. This means you have to mentally prepare for this manoeuvre in the preceding bar (bar 108) and remember to plonk your finger down on the C key in such a way that you can slide across from the knuckle.
  • Practise sliding from C to Eb and back to C again slowly and repeatedly. Increase the speed until it’s almost a slow trill, but don’t lose control of it: the sound when moving from one note to the next should be smooth with no bumps in between.
  • Everyone has a greasy patch at the side of their nose – please don’t be offended, it’s true – and you can make use of this grease to lubricate the side of the finger: this will make the sliding much easier. So, if you’re going to use this technique, mark a point in the music where you have enough time to wipe your right-hand little finger down the side of your nose – in this case, it would be during the six bars’ rest after letter G – and practise doing so when playing with your accompanist or on your own with a metronome.

I quite like this option, although at the moment, it doesn’t feel as secure as making use of one of the keys. However, I’ll carry on practising it because if I can get myself to the stage where I can slide about efficiently and effectively, it’ll make Eb a lot less scary than it is now.

This brings me to the final option.

3.  Using the right-hand Ab in combination with the left-hand Eb

This, oddly enough, is the option I’m favouring at the moment, because I hardly ever use the right-hand Ab and I think I ought to be able to (see also the relevant section in a post on Gordon Jacob). It’s not really that difficult, and like everything else, it’s just a question of practising enough so that your fingers know where to go and you don’t have to think about it.


So, here what you’re doing is playing the blue Ebs with the left-hand Eb key, and using the first finger on your right hand to play the red Abs using the long right-hand Ab key. I think it’s a good choice because to me it feels the most secure: as long as you can remember to get the other fingers on your right hand out of the way quickly enough, it works very well. This method is very useful in this passage in particular, because the note that follows those right-hand Abs in both instances is a G, so all you have to do is take your right hand away and hey presto! It’s surprisingly easy.

And there you have it. I’ve now incorporated a quick run-through of these three options into my practice sessions using these very bars, with the eventual aim of being entirely comfortable with all three options no matter what the particular note-combination. It’ll take a while, but I think it’ll be worth it.

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