Photo above shows, left to right, the M2, 2001 and 901 models
A MARIGAUX EXPERIENCE
It is something over forty years ago that my relationship with oboes made by Marigaux began. In the late 1960’s the variety of oboes available to us in the UK was quite limited. The fine German maker Hans Kreul certainly had a tiny hold on the UK market and his oboes were quite popular, however the main oboe maker available to us was of course T. W. Howarth. Players from the UK who had studied in France or Germany had more opportunity to try different makes of oboe and some came back playing ‘exotic’ instruments that their teachers used and recommended made by Rigoutat, Loree, Marigaux.
The demand for oboes far exceeded supply. Professional instruments at that time were almost entirely hand made and waiting lists long. This resulted in a purchasing regime that did not allow for much choice, if any at all. Then, George Howarth who had a small outlet in Kentish Town London, began importing oboes from Marigaux. These instruments were built for the British market with thumb plate and open-holed ring system. I subsequently bought one as I had been looking to replace my old Howarth S2 that had served me well since I was a boy. Several top joints later and even a BBC broadcast of the Six Metamorphosen after Ovid (which reminded me that the bottom C’s were not reliable. See Bacchus second page!) We parted company, as joint cracking was an issue for me.
This preamble serves to show why I have an in-built belief that cracking be a propensity of the brand. This has not been alleviated by the remarks of colleagues who have had problems with their Marigaux oboes over the years. Having said that I now realise that oboes of the brand are really no more liable to split early on in their lives than other brands. Prevention of cracking is worth an article in itself and I won’t go into that here.
So, how did I receive one each of the current range of professional oboes to assess for two weeks, the models 901, 2001 and M2?
For many years I have contributed to a website on matters regarding the oboe and its world. During this time the matter of “which oboe should I choose?” frequently comes up. The Company had noticed my cautious advice to enquirers about the Marigaux oboe. I had warned about the cracking history and also the sameness of the sound they produce. One day earlier this year I had an email from the President, Renaud Patalowski, asking how they could possibly change my opinion of the brand and would I like to try the range. I immediately said yes please!
What are the current Marigaux oboes like?
As a group of instruments these brand new examples were all beautiful finished and presented. The interior of the cases with the fabric flap covering the oboe gives a caché of quality. The spacious case of the M2 oboe with its two top joints and long main joint is guaranteed to be a talking point. The outer sheepskin covering with zipped pocket offers good protection. So far so good but how do they play and what is so important, how do they sound? I will take them one by one and try to give my perceptions of their attributes.
Marigaux Model 901
My first impression of this instrument was that it had that characteristic Marigaux tone quality. The sound was warm and velvety with a good feeling of focus through the range. The bottom notes were easily produced especially with regard to the quieter dynamics asked of them. Attack was secure and diminuendos were easily maintained without drop out signifying a good bore design, undercutting and an airtight finish. Crescendos were almost as evenly produced but I had the feeling that there was a limit beyond which I couldn’t go. Busting a gut didn’t give me any more sound! Attack of the highest register was very good indeed with lovely clarity in the often problem range of top C#, D and D#. It was however in the middle range where I had a problem or two. The E to G# range notes were inclined to sag and need more embouchure help. I tried other reeds on both wider and narrower staples but the problem stayed with me. I would probably need a reed with less taken out of the heart and a shorter tip to stabilise these notes. This instability was unfortunate because the notes in all other registers were excellent with all sorts of reed styles. It was a probably a symptom of that example and not a generic one of model 901. It has to be remembered that there is a sort of synergy between oboe, reed, embouchure, our physical attributes and breathing which produces ‘our’ unique oboe sound. So maybe this example did not quite suit my set up.
The intonation of the instrument was very workable. The overall pitch was slightly on the flat side with a standard U-scraped reed of 70.5mm overall length on a wide-ish shape. (Rigoutat -2 shape). I nipped a little off this length both to try and achieve stable middle register notes and to bring up the pitch. I also slightly narrowed the sides of the shape and then I was up to pitch. I always find that pitching the bottom D is a good starting point and not the A. In fact it is a good idea to invest in a tone generating device to give you a bottom D which you can hear and then play your A and tune it carefully to eliminate beats. I digress! I find it is often a problem with brand new oboes of recent designs to be sharp enough. They usually ‘come up’ however over time as they are played in. The use of the double bell key mechanism that opens the bell key for bottom B, in addition to the bottom B flat, seemed to be beneficial. A Marigaux feature.
Harmonics are a good test of an oboe’s acoustic properties. The usual fingerings produced harmonics with great ease and multi-phonics were effortless and complex. A good oboe for Berio Sequenzia I suggest but not perhaps quite as good as my Rigoutat in this respect; though the Rigoutat can be a little unruly and need to be ridden bare-back some of the time!
Fast-tongued passages just worked very well. There was good separation between the notes as there was a fine sense of release happening. This helped achieve clarity.
In conclusion then the ‘901’ is a fine professional instrument that will fill every need of those looking for a warm darkish sound quality with never a nasty noise.
This instrument is characterized by changes in the design of the key work. These changes include a remodeled left hand touch keys assembly, a remodeled right hand touch key assembly, adjustable thumb rest, improved left hand F key, a reshaped G# key and an extended A key. There is also a “Philly D” which closes the D ring to make G to top D easier to play as standard.
The sound production over all the range was startlingly good. The left hand notes being particularly open and free - almost as if playing an open-holed oboe. They had that real zing and life to them. The extreme high register was effortless. Slurring up from anywhere on the oboe to top G was absolutely no problem. A good little test was to play the little solo from Creation du Monde which slurs up to high F# repeatedly and awkwardly! It was easy to achieve – actually easier to achieve (for me) than on my Loree Royale which is my best oboe for that passage! Other problem notes on some oboes such as top A and top C with the second octave were beautifully centred sweet and without breathy edge.
The dynamic range was greater than the 901 in that the instrument did feel more open and free to blow. It didn’t feel quite as restricted. There was sense that projection in a large hall would be effortless. This of course could be an illusion brought about by the free blown feel of the instrument. The tone quality was warm and had a brighter sheen to it than the 901. A central core of sound that was spot on the button for each note and a secure facility for diminuendo was commendable.
The intonation was very good. Again the overall pitch was manageable and in tune with my standard reed length of 70.5mm. The ‘A’ was easily pushed up slightly to 441 or 442 cps if needed.
The stability of all the notes including the problematical first octave range from E to G# was very good with no suggestion of wilting. The sometimes tricky middle C# and D# were really clear solid notes. Harmonics, tonguing and the clarity of attack and release of notes were all first class.
The key work modifications mentioned in the first paragraph are well thought out and make the instrument very comfortable to play.
It was my huge misfortune that I found this oboe so very good that I needed it! I spent many days of reasoning with myself why I didn’t need this instrument and when the time came to send it back I was extremely sad to see the carrier take it away. So if anyone bought #03530 let me know how ‘she’ is doing would you...
This model is a newly designed instrument for which the principal oboe tester for Marigaux, oboist Michel Croquenoy as inventor, has taken out five patents from 2005 to 2008 on behalf of the company. The good reasoning behind the design is to improve the notes in the range E to B both in security and intonation. Having one long middle joint, a small top joint and a bell achieve this improvement. This means that the holes can be placed in an ideal acoustic position without the encumbrance of the middle tenon joint. Two top joints are provided and these can be tailor-made in a number of combinations. The joints included with my sample were a short joint and a longer joint. There was not much difference in the length, one was 11.7 mm and the shorter one 11.6 mm. For pitch considerations I used the shorter joint for my tests as it gave me a comfortable A=440 cps. I was little concerned as the first octave key projected beyond the end of the top joint and could be vulnerable if put away carelessly back into the case in the ‘heat of the moment’.
The key work is based on the 2001 series oboe with the ergonomically improved systems for the right and left hand little fingers. There is also an adjustable long F, that is a bonus, and a comfortable position achieved for the left hand third and fourth fingers as a consequence of moving the tone holes.
What did it sound like? I felt that the sound had much in common with the 901 but just more of it in one way. The darkness of the sound was a big feature. Think ‘honey’ for 2001, ‘syrup’ for the 901 but ‘treacle’ for the M2. If very dark warm sounds are your desire then the M2 will give it to you. I did think that the tonal possibilities were slightly more limited perhaps than the other two oboes but this no doubt could be extended with more reed experiment. Certainly the M2 will accommodate any old bit of cane and sound good. I thought that the projection was not quite on a par with the 2001 but similar to the 901. It is important to bear in mind that all oboes have differences not only between models but also between examples within the model range.
I was impressed by the acoustic and tuning properties of this instrument. Indeed as I write I am listening to recordings that I made testing the E to A ranges (trying not to adjust the embouchure) of all three Marigaux instruments and comparing these with oboes I own from Howarth, Rigoutat, Buffet and Loree. The most convincing oboe intonation is without doubt that of the M2 in this pitch range. There is still a hint of flatness, to my ear, with the F, top of the stave; but all smooths out as I reach the top A. On a sensitive tuning meter the top of the stave F is flat with most of these oboes so that, chromatically in equal temperament, playing from E to G can sound uncomfortable as E and F# are nearly always sharp!
The tonal stability, the harmonics, its ability to play fast tongued passages with clarity allied with a good dynamic range make this also a fine oboe. It is representing the top of the range of Marigaux instruments but I feel that players deciding if it is for them must not be influenced by the novelty value or its place in the maker’s hierarchy.
There is to an extent a “Marigaux sound” and there are those who would decry the maker for dictating the sound of the modern oboe. There is no doubt that there are distinct similarities in all of the three oboes dealt with in this article and for some players the sound they make will be a generic sound without much personality. For lots of oboists this will be sufficient and a reason for buying Marigaux. For the player though with the perspicacity and imagination to develop their own style these oboes will be the means to an end. The unique personal qualities, of both player and oboe, will be found and wonderful performances expedited by one of these instruments. Marigaux are not unique in this fact of course as the same can be said in present times of any of the big oboe makers of the world. As always in these matters, personal choice is key.
Photo above shows the alignment of the tone holes - from the top, the M2, 901 and 2001.
The reed sockets have been carefully aligned.