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Born in Missouri and raised in Texas, Rathbun began studying oboe in the fifth grade. He has degrees from the University of North Texas and the Cleveland Institute of Music, where he studied with John Mack, then principal oboe of the Cleveland Orchestra. A veteran orchestral player, Rathbun became assistant principal oboe of the Cleveland Orchestra in 1990. As a soloist he won first prize at the 1988 Lucarelli International Competition at Carnegie Hall and has released the 1998 CD Color Factory, which includes one of his own compositions, an oboe duo that he performs with John Mack. He has written orchestral works as well as chamber music; three of his pieces have been premiered by the Cleveland Orchestra.
A group of four engaging miniatures, the Suite for Oboe and English Horn was written in 1997 and reveals a witty, stylistically engaged composer. The first movement, “Fast and Furious,” is a brisk, busy conversation with repeated notes and phrases, sounding something like fractured Prokofiev and ending with a blithe little fanfare figure.
The “Two Marches” are not sequential, but overlapped, like interlocking variations. They make sly, wry allusions to common ground music, such as “For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” (or “The Bear Went Over the Mountain,” both based on an 18th-century French folk tune with antecedents stretching back to the Crusades).
Pensive parody – if that is not an oxymoron – seems the defining element of the “Chorale,” with its gracefully ornamented neo-Baroque lines. It gets momentarily much more active midway through, before returning to variations on the opening mood and instrumental role reversals.
The “Quick Fugue” is just that, with a return to the more acerbic language and gestures of the opening movement. The points of imitation lead to scherzo-like interludes, and – like the whole – the instrumental writing is confident and idiomatic without exaggeration.
John Henken is Director of Publications for the Los Angeles Philharmonic.