Althea Talbot-Howard
Oboe, Oboe d'Amore & Cor Anglais Soloist

Concert Reviews

Duo Balance Old and New

Music for Oboes and Harpsichord, Emmanuel Church, Hampstead and Highgate Festival, May 18 2007. Althea Ifeka, Oboe, Oboe d'amore, Cor anglais ~ Katharine May, Harpsichord

"Balancing the old and new in any art form can be a bit of a hazardous business. But these two young musicians devised and performed a programme that embraced works from Byrd and the 16th century to Matthews in the late 20th.

"In styles and substance, the range might have seemed too daunting for the listener. However, the echoes of the high renaissance and the baroque in the contemporary works provided a continuity that made listening easy. The duo topped and tailed their offerings with Handel's Sonata in F, Op.1/5 and his Sonata in F, Op.1/11 - pieces that reflected the diversity of both the cultural influences in his life and the number of instruments on which they could be played.

"The scoring on the 20th century works allowed for less latitude, although Ifeka in Matthews' A Little Threnody, Maconchy's Three Bagatelles and Rubbra's Passacaglia produced a range of sonorities that captivated the ear and captured the mood, language and harmonies of the time.

"One would also have to applaud Ifeka's marvellous performance of Eccles's Sonata in G minor, originally written for the viola but transferred perfectly to the cor anglais and played with panache."

Hampstead and Highgate Express, May 2007


"Anyone who was not able to hear last week's concert by Katharine May and Althea Ifeka at the Hampstead and Highgate Festival missed a beautiful performance, which everyone in the audience clearly found most rewarding. Oboist Althea Ifeka played with great beauty: her command of tone and technique were breath-taking. One cannot really speak of high-points when the playing is so consistently fine, but harpsichord fans must have particularly enjoyed Katharine's playing of Byrd, which was unobtrusively beautiful, and the cool command she brought to that famous Handel Passacaglia - like all the best players, she makes and extremely difficult work look so easy. This is clearly a duo that deserves to be heard by a much wider audience."

British Harpsichord Society Online, May 2007


"Thank you so much for your beautiful playing at this year's Hampstead and Highgate Festival - your concert with Katharine was truly outstanding, and the eclectic choice of contemporary, twentieth century and Baroque repertoire was wonderfully informed, amazingly fresh and truly inspired"

Excerpt from a letter from George Vass, Director, Hampstead and Highate Festival

"England, merrie England" ~ Recital for Tilford Bach Society at Farnham Castle 13th January 2006

"What better way could there be to start a new musical year than an exploration of England, merrie England under the guidance of two highly-talented musicians. Althea Ifeka and Katharine May enchanted members of the Tilford Bach Society at Farnham Castle on 13th January with a recital of music for oboe and harpsichord ranging from the 17th to the 20th century. Besides works for the combined instruments by Handel and Gordon Jacob, their varied and well-balanced programme included solo works such as Benjamin Britten's Six Metamorphoses for Oboe Solo. The composer had designed this piece to be played out-of-doors, but the acoustic of the castle's Great Hall proved very effective as we heard the rash Phaeton soaring to his fate in the Sun God's chariot, and Narcissus falling in love with his own reflection, represented by echoing high and low phrases. Katharine May gave a breathtaking performance of Handel's Passacaglia for solo harpsichord and Althea Ifeka switched to the lower-pitched oboe d'amore and even deeper cor anglais for the final pieces. It is no wonder that this duo have won so many awards and are in such demand for some of the most presigious music festivals."

by Rosemary Wisbey, Farnham Herald, January 2006.

"The Grand Tour", Derby Chamber Music Society, 17 March 2006

"Before your wonderful concert with Katharine becomes too distant a memory, I thought I would just write and finally thank you both for your very extra-special performance which you entertained us with last Friday week. I thought the combination of oboe/cor anglais with harpsichord was a stunning one, which gave us a new sound and musical period to savour, and the pleasure of listening to your well chosen programme was enhanced by the complete mastery you both had over your respective instruments. I also liked the insertion into your Grand Tour theme of Jacob's whimsical Sonatina."

Excerpt from a letter from Jon Turner, Chairman

Arresting Playing

"The Grand Tour" ~ Recital for Derby Chamber Music Society, 17 March 2006 Murray Park School, Mickleover, Derby.

"Althea Ifeka and Katherine May's recital of mainly baroque music -- and much of it little-known, at that -- was not an obvious box-office draw, but there was a good-sized audience for this highly attractive programme. Based on the idea of the 18th-century European grand tour, it underlined just how mobile musicians of the time were in pursuit of career opportunities, and how readily music circulated among the main European centres.

"The evening took a little while to get fully into its stride, but there was some arresting playing throughout. The opening of Vivaldi's C minor Sonata RV53 was notable for May's strong, big-boned opening statement and the pliant lyricism of Ifeka's reply, typical of the lively sense of interaction between the two players. In Bach's Sonata BWV 1030, best known as a flute sonata, they brought great textural clarity to the finale's fugal first half, while there was an infectious rhythmic bounce to the gigue-like conclusion.

"Adding some 20th-century spice to the evening, Ifeka and May were lucid guides to the changing moods of Gordon Jacob's Sonatina, bringing off the witty ending with a delightfully light touch.

"May gave a wonderfully sonorous performance of Louis Couperin's C major Passacaille and a commendably brisk and lively one of the familiar Air and Variations from Handel's Fifth Harpsichord Suite. Ifeka made a convincing case for the oboe d'amore in one of Telemann's solo flute fantasies, and for the cor anglais in Henry Eccles' G minor Sonata, in which she was joined by May in a reading alternately plaintive and nimble."

The pieces were linked by a well-researched and informative commentary, though a more informal, conversational style of delivery would have conveyed the information more effectively.

Mike Wheeler, Music and Vision, 22nd March 2006

"The Grand Tour", Curry Rivel Music Club, 16 March 2006

"Thank you so much for your wonderful recital last Thursday. Many members have remarked on the brilliance of your individual playing...I hope that you both enjoyed it as much as we did."

Excerpt from a letter from Mr David Mills, Chairman

"The Grand Tour", Seaford Music Society, 14 October 2005

"Astonishingly good: I was so impressed with both of your playing. Absolutely first class!"

Comment from Mrs Jean McCapra, Joint Chair

Mozart Oboe Concerto, K.314. Performance with Haslemere Musical Society, March 1998

"Oboe playing of the first order was the next treat in store, as Althea Ifeka gave a performance of Mozart's concerto. Her tone, sweet, rounded and beautiful, was a joy to hear, her interpretation elegant in the extreme, if at the expense of the humour which was one of Mozart's traits. But this young performer will go far."

The Haslemere Herald, 13th March 1998:

Albinoni Concerto in Bb major and Marcello Concerto in D-minor. Performance with the Bath City Orchestra at The Guildhall, Bath, August 1995.

"Althea Ifeka...was the oboe soloist in two contemporary pieces, Concerto in D minor for Oboe and Strings by Marcello, and Albinoni's Oboe Concerto in Bb major Op7/3. She is young in years but wise in phrasing. Having grown up in Canberra, completed her education in England, and had a residency at the Banff Centre in Canada, it was hardly surprising her playing had breadth and maturity. She has a gentle tone, free of harshness. It was the sort of bright, energetic performance that made me happy the BCO season has started again."

Reg Burnard writing in The Wiltshire Times, 31st August 1995:

"Solo oboe Althea Ifeka was superb in the Albinoni Concerto in Bb major: a lovely liquid sound, and the long phrases effortlessly negotiatied."

Peter Lloyd Williams writing in a Bath newspaper, 29th August 1995:

"A Short History of Western Music" ~ Recital in Canberra, December 1993. With Katie Zhukov, piano.

(This review has been edited and compressed for reasons of space.)

"To be presented with A Short History of Western Music in the space of a mere two hours might seem a case of too much, too soon. However, with the support of lucid program notes, Althea Ifeka (oboe) and Katie Zhukov (piano) undertook this strenuous juourney at the Chapel of the Annunciation on Sunday afternoon. Ranging from the Renaissance to the mid-20th century, the artists successfully adopted the stylistic tendencies of the various periods...[In] Giovanni Bassano's early Division on Susanne ung jour...the sparkling embellishments for solo instrument were shaped with grace and agility...Both adagio movements in in Handel's delightful Sonata in F-major gave an opportunity for beautiful and elaborate ornamentation while the sprightly allegro and bourree provided a robust contrast".

"Vigour, lyricism, rough humour and sheer boisterousness alternated as oboe and piano projected the various moods Beethoven had hewn from Mozart's winning melody in Variations on "La ci darem le mano".

"An assured performance was given of the three twentieth century works: Hindemith's Sonate of 1938, Charles Colin's Premier solo de concours of 1948, and Matyas Seiber's challenging Improvisation of 1957...Hindemith's Sonate was a rewardingly gritty piece, rhythmically viable and inventive. The slow movement achieved a purity of tone in the oboe's extended high notes, while the final movement pointed the driving sense of syncopation".

"Althea Ifeka allied the skills of a polished colourist to those of a sensitive and stylish performer. Katie Zhukov achieved an enviable rapport."

Bernadette Cruise writing in The Canberra Times, 15th December 1993: