|OBOE MAKERS & COMMENTARY|
20th and 21st Centuries OBOES
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The opinions expressed below represent only my experience with various makes and models of oboe family instruments so far. Please keep in mind that how an oboe “takes the air” is different, often vastly different, from player to player. “Your air” is not “my air,” “your scale” is not likely to be “my scale,” your compensations will differ from my compensations, your reed will not be my reed, and your own “personal resonance” will be different from anyone else's “personal resonance” when playing an oboe instrument.
For many years past, collecting and trading oboe instruments, I have had opportunity to take on various makers to represent. I have declined all such opportunities. However, at the 2011 IDRS convention, I came across a make English horn that is in a league of its own, far superior to any other English horn by any other present day maker. The English horn I felt was (by far) the “best in show” at IRDS 2011 is by Puchner, and I have contracted to represent Puchner oboes, oboes d'amore, and English horns in North America. However, please know that my reviews of Puchner instruments below reflect my genuine assessments.
A note about tuners – I will offer the advice of my late friend Wally Bhosys, oboist with the Metropolitan Opera in the 1950s–1970s. It is not possible to separate the observer from the observed when playing to an electronic tuner. Simply put, playing to a tuner will produce completely arbitrary results. The only use possible good use for a tuner would be to test the length of a reed or bocal to establish a comfortable A. Beyond this, trust your own ears.
Preamble - A Primer on Wood
The quality of wood found in many instruments offered by some major manufacturers nowadays seems to be of much poorer quality than wood found in instruments made [say] prior to 1990. Much of the wood presently used for mass produced wooden oboe instruments tends to be "open" (coarse) grain, from young trees, and exceedingly prone to cracking, or even "exploding." Not only is much of the wood used nowadays for oboe production of lesser quality than in decades past, the wood is not truly "seasoned."
"Seasoning" oboes woods, according to usual convention, means that the wood is cut into billets, the billets then placed in an unheated warehouse or barn on stickers for air circulation for perhaps 10-20 years. After the initial seasoning process, the un-cracked, un-warped billets will be turned round, and a small pilot hole drilled completely through the pieces. Then the rounds will be set aside for perhaps (ideally) another 5 years or so. In this manner, the wood will be able to experience all the changes in temperature and humidity, and dry ever so slowly. After the rounds have seasoned, any cracked or warped pieces will (should) be discarded.
Nowadays, some of the large oboe manufacturers do not have the luxury of seasoning the wood as in "the old days." A common practice nowadays is simply to dry the wood for a year or two in an insulated box ("kiln") at 125 degrees. In my estimation, this drying process is absolutely no substitute for seasoning wood! Drying wood IS part of the oboe manufacturing process, though only AFTER wood has been well seasoned.
With wood being of such dubious quality nowadays, I am amazed that oboe manufacturers do not simply sleeve the upper joints of their instrument with PET polymer liners...
Subject to change!
AMATI - AVOID ! Yikes!
ADLER - The model 6000 (French style) oboe is worth a look. Very well made. I prefer the model 6000 oboes made after 2010
A. BARRE' - A. Laubin's “second–line” of instruments. Made to A. Laubin's specifications, finished by William Glover, voiced by Al Laubin. Good oboes for advanced students/ advanced amateurs. Somewhat bright (“sprightly)“ sound. Some "ethereal," some very good, some "OK," some indifferent. One of the best oboes ergonomically for oboists with small hands.
BHOSYS (stencil) - Some "OK," some indifferent, some truly not so good at all. Stencil instruments, mostly Malerne.
BUFFET - The most recent wood professional model 3613 oboes tend
to be excellent. Exquisite key-work. Impeccable
scale. Lacking in the complexity, "character" department.
BULGHERONI - First class maker.
The "Opera" model by Bulgheroni is easily on a
par with Loree. For me, the "Opera" model
on display at IDRS 2011 was THE best oboe
of all. I bought it on the spot.
CABART - Prolific maker from the early 20th century to 1974 when bought out by Loree. Wildly inconsistent maker. I truly admire some of the ring system oboes by Cabart from the 1920s through 1940s. Sumptuous, "penetrating," lush, "haunting" sound. I like some of the 1960s- to mid 1970s Cabart plateau models as well. The keywork is not especially well crafted, though it is adequate.
CABART 74 (Loree Cabart 74) - Full system oboe, though lacking split ring D key. Good student oboe, though for sure overpriced with respect to playing characteristics. For about the same price, a Bulgheroni FULL Conservatory system professional oboe ("Artist" model) can be obtained.
CHAUVET - Excellent maker. Imported and sold by Laubin in the 1950s- serial numbers: numbers only. Ben Storch took over the importation of Chauvet instruments from the late 1950s to the mid 1960s- serial numbers: "BW" followed by numbers. Ben re-voiced the "BW" oboes to his own specifications. From the c. 1964 to the mid 1970s the Chauvet line was imported by Linx and Long in Manhattan - serial numbers: "AC" followed by numbers. The pre- Storch Chauvet oboes - not memorable. Some of the Ben Storch "BW" series Chauvet oboes may be described as first class, especially from about serial number BW100 to about BW330. I played on a sublime Chauvet "BW" as a primary instrument for some years, until I discovered Hiniker oboes. The AC Chauvet oboes- not as desirable as the BW oboes, though at times very good. Usually the "AC" oboes seem brighter in timbre. The BW series Chauvet oboe is darker in timbre than almost any of the other French oboes, comparable to the "thick wall" late "B" series Loree oboes model, or the present day Loree "Royale" model. Warren Sutherland used Chauvet BW oboes throughout most of his career as princpal oboe of the Indianopolis Symphony and Tucson Symphony. The Chauvet oboe was very well made. It is not uncommon to find Chauvet oboe still playing well even after 40 years of school/university use.
CHUDNOW, MARK - "Sierra" Exquisite professional oboes. Rare, as Mark no longer makes professional model system oboes from scratch, though the key-work was made to Mark's exacting specifications by Bulgheroni. Mark made some of exotic wood such as Cocobolo.
COVEY - Excellent maker. Exquisite design and
artisanship of keywork. I find the spacing
between the low D (split ring D) and the low
C touch to be too close in spacing (by 2mm) for
all but an oboist having very small hands, thus
ergonomically uncomfortable for oboists having
medium to large hands. The "Covey" sound
is gorgeous, though I have found that some
of the pre- 2004 Covey oboes I have played have a
scale that I would characterize as being overly
"flexible"- the pitch centers simply do not seem to
"lock in." And I also find some of the older Covey
oboes seem to be difficult to finesse the transition
between dynamics - seem to want to only play mf.
DECKER - A first class maker. Rare, only about 25 oboes to date. Most made of Boxwood. Not presently making oboes. Instrument is perhaps best suited for chamber music, not orchestral use. Gold plated keys on most Decker oboes.
DUPIN, ROLAND - Legendary maker, though be sure to pay for and pick up your oboe in person at the atelier in Luxembourg...
DUPIN, GUY - Dupin, Guy Loree or Buffet oboes fettled by Guy Dupin. Likely best to avoid.
FOSSATI - Oboes made pre- mid 2008, I have not been impressed at all. However, since mid- 2008, Fossati has completely redesigned the acoustics, and the result is a positively first class instrument. The new "MB" model is well worth comparing to (say) Loree, Howarth, Covey, Marigaux, Bulgheroni. The two other Fossati models ("Artiste" and "Soloiste") also merit a try.
FOX - Good to very good maker. Likely best for beginners and intermediate students in high school. The plastic Fox model 300 is the "Chevrolet" of the mid- level professional model oboe market. The models 330 (modified Conservatory, and model 333 (basic Conservatory) may be thought of as the "Chevrolet" of the entry level oboe market. Fox quality control is first rate, the keywork is well designed and well made. The scale of the Fox instruments is usually good-very good. However, it is my perception that Fox still has not arrived at an "optimal" set of measurements for the bore, tone hole placement, tone hole sizing and undercutting that will produce an oboe having an "ethereal" sound. To me, the reason a Fox 300 model oboe may not sound anywhere near as appealing as (say) a Loree C series or late H series is not the fact that it is (Acrylic) plastic, it is possibly mostly a question of the design elements, and to an extent the fact that Fox uses injection molding to make the instrument bodies. Compare (say) a clear Acrylic ("Altuglas') Marigaux , or a Hiniker oboe machined from solid, clear cast Acrylic stock to a Fox model 300 or Fox model 450 and you will know instantly... It is possible though to find an occasional Fox model 400 (all wood, professional model) oboe that is on a par with (say) a good Loree "H" series oboe. The model 800 (all wood) is a good oboe for a serious amateur - a lot less expensive than a Loree.
GORDET - Ben Storch's trade name.
"GERMAN" GORDET - MADE BY KREUL - The darkest sound
in the realm of oboe. Physically, the heaviest of
oboes. Massive, with heavy pattern, very hard alloy
keywork. Often will play best if a Covey bell is
employed. Best suited for an oboist having large
hands. Often excellent oboes. Very "forgiving,"
locks in on pitch centers, easy to make reeds for,
difficult to play a "bad note."
"FRENCH" GORDET - Not many "French model" Gordet oboes were made. Some very few by Chauvet, most by Malerne. Mostly indifferent, mediocre instruments.
"ITALIAN" GORDET - Made by Bulgheroni. Usually very good-excellent instruments. The (very rare) all plastic Italian Gordet is one of the best sounding of all plastic oboes extant. Excellent value on the second hand market with respect to value for money.
GORDET / HOLLANDER - "Italian model" - first class oboes in every respect, beautifully voiced.
GOUBET - Good maker. Rare. 1930s-1950s.
GUASTI - (Florence) Enrico Guasti made some good oboes, though overall an inconsistent maker.
GRAESSEL - no information available reputed to be very good. Automatic octave.
HINIKER - MINNESOTA - In my estimation, the best of the best. The ULTIMATE professional oboe. Without peer in the realm of oboe. The Snakewood Hiniker oboe is THE single finest (and most appealing) oboe I have ever played. Hiniker oboes made after 2008 all have P.E.T polymer sleeve liners in the upper joint. The Hiniker clear Acrylic oboe is without peer in the realm of oboes entirely of synthetic, and impossible to distinguish the sound from an all Hiniker oboe made of African Blackwood. And the Cocobolo Hiniker oboe is "over the top" amazing. A new model, the "Hiniker/Ferillo modified Loree B series" is absolutely PHENOMENAL. HUGE sound that can cut through in a large orchestra, though without losing lyrical subtlety or "soul." This would be a dream instrument for a principal oboist. Tom Hiniker's attention to detail is without equal in the realm of oboe making. The ergonomics of the keywork is second to none. L--o--n--g waiting list. A second hand Hiniker oboe will often realize a higher price than new.
HECKEL - Excellent maker, though Heckel has not made oboes since 1964. Many of the older Heckel oboes not pitched at A=440 !
HOWARTH - First class maker, beautiful oboes in every respect. The S5 XL has a smooth, velvety, "dark" sound. The "S5"- has a "brighter" timbre than the S5, and the "S6" is in fact "bright." The Howarth S5 XL in Cocobolo is highly recommended. Cooper Wright's own personal oboe, a Howarth Cocobolo S5 XL circa 2008, having a unique experimental bore, and some post factory re-tuning/voicing, is one of the most appealing oboes I have ever played. The design execution of the keywork is first rate. Some Howarth oboes may need additional tuning to suit, though any perceived anomalies tend to be minimal and fixable. Used Howarth oboes, either S5 XL or S5 will be a most excellent value for money.
HULLER - No information available at present. Germany.
JARDE' - Good to (at times) excellent maker. The "quintessential" French oboe. Circa 1950s to the 1980s. A "Ralph Gomberg model "Jarde' exists, though I do not know how it may differ from the standard Jarde' professional oboe. Some excellent, some good, some indifferent. I have had excellent results having Jarde' oboes being re-voiced by a master artisan, such as David Teitelbaum.
JOSEF - I tried the Josef oboes at the 2008 IDRS convention. The oboe was a complete disaster, a "dud" for sure. My colleagues came to the same conclusion...
KGE (Armstrong/Ward) - Excellent oboes overall. I would look at the all synthetic "Acolyte" model as an excellent value as a professional model oboe for a student or amateur, or a professional looking for an instrument for outdoor use.
KHOLERT - Kholert made some "full" Conservatory system oboes, though missing a split ring D. A wildly inconsistent maker. I have had a well voiced Kholert oboe with a penetrating, haunting, semi-dark sound. I have had a (very rare) Kohlert sax-oboe that was as good as the best Loree sax-oboe. Usually best to avoid Kohlert instruments.
KREUL - A first class maker. Stencils: Kreul/Mirafone, Gordet "German" model, Lucerne, Eneg. Note: some Lucerne stencils NOT by Kreul. The Kreul oboes have a beautiful, sumptuous, dark sound brimming with personality. Very "forgiving" to play and locks in on pitch centers. Built to "withstand nuclear attack." Keywork is of a much harder alloy than the usual French oboes. Ergonomically best for persons with having large hands. The "German model" Gordet/Kreul and "Lucerne" stencil is in fact a different instrument from the "standard" Kreul though at first glance nearly identical in appearance. The Gordet/Kreul and Lucerne/Kreul will be much heavier physically than the standard Kreul or Kreul/Mirafone, with much thicker wall diameter. The Gordet/Kreul and the Lucerne/Kreul produce the "darkest" oboe timbre of any make I know of. The "standard" Kreul oboe, though somewhat "dark" sounding, still has an element of brightness. I admire Kreul oboes, though I prefer the usual Hans Kreul and Hans Kreul/Mirafone to the Gordet and "Lucerne" Kreul models. It is possible on occasion to find a "Kreul" (or "Hans Kreul") oboe this is in fact the same model as the heavy "Gordet" or Lucerne/Kreul. Conversely, it is on rare occasion possible to find a German Kreul "Gordet" oboe that is in fact the lighter weight "standard" Kreul model. Excellent value for money. Kreul radically redesigned the keywork patterns in the 1990s- most of the key touches became flat, in stark contrast to the earlier "domed" touch surfaces- "flat keyboard" effect- takes time to become accustomed to the flat surfaces. Sadly, Kreul ceased production in the late 1990s.
INCAGNOLI - "Prestini" system oboe, made by Orsi. At times, good.
LAUBIN - Legenday maker. I especially like the Al Laubin oboes made between 1958 and 1972. I find some of the late model Paul Laubin oboes to be sensational, with special mention to the Rosewood oboes made in the mid to late 1990s. New from the factory, Laubin oboes have about 50% skin pads. In my estimation it is best simply to replace all skin pads cork. The Laubin oboe has a distinctly different sound from the Loree oboes. Smooth, dark, slightly "covered" sound, with a "glint" of oboe d'amore timbre. Laubin oboes made within the past few decades have half length (on rare occasion full length) polymer sleeves in the upper joint. The resale value of a fine Laubin oboe of any vintage is very high in comparison to most any other make except Hiniker.
LARILEE - I began playing on a Larilee "full Conservatory, professional model" oboe. The tone was "extra bright." The keywork and pad-work was of the most marginal quality. However, the oboe was well voiced and played easily. Some of the Larilees oboes "sing," while others can be unbearably "stuffy." The keywork is extremely "bendy" and all too easily knocked out of adjustment. A repairman's worst nightmare. Best to avoid...
Le BLANC - AVOID, including the student line "Noblet."
Le BRET - Predecessor to R. Malerne.
LESHER - Lesher made some "full Consevatory" oboes. Some made before the buyout by Selmer play well, though the keywork is of marginal quality. Best to avoid.
LINTON - AVOID, with the sole exception of the (rare) "ZRL" (made in USA) FULL Conservatory system, professional model oboe. The "ZRL" in plastic is in my estimation far superior to the usual Buffet, Yamaha, Selmer intermediate oboes. The sound of the plastic ZRL is rather bright, though not overly so. The wood ZRL has element of bright and dark. The engineering of the keywork is not on a par with say Fox, though it is for sure functional, and good ergonomically. ZRL is an excellent value on the second hand market. Linton also had a line of oboes called "Linton Paris" made by Cabart. Worth a look if you can find an example having the FULL complement of professional model keywork.
M. LOREE - Marcel Loree left the family business to set up his own atelier. The M. Loree oboes have truly thin walls, thus a truly "bright" sound. Best left to collectors.
F. LOREE - The most famous maker of all, founded 1881. For chronological chart of serial numbers see Lars Kirmser serial number pages. About 80% of professional oboists in the US play Loree instruments. At present, Loree is making 3 different styles of instrument bore: "regular" bore, "ak" & "dm" /"German" bore. Loree makes all bore available in two models: "Standard" and the premium "Royale." The "regular" bore oboe is an "all around" instrument, excellent for most any musical endeavor. The "ak" bore oboe (introduced in the late 1980s) is designed for maximum projection in an orchestral setting. Personally, I find the sound of the "ak" oboe to be "brash" and overly "aggressive" - a "reed trumpet" perhaps. Sweetness and lyrical subtlety seem missing to great extent, though once in a while a will come across an "ak" with a tinge of sweetness, especially the early "ak" oboes from H-J series. I am very partial to the "dm" bore oboe. The "dm" seems to have more "sparkle" and "character" than the "regular" bore, with still an element of sweetness. I do not find the "dm bore to be in "darker" in sound than the "regular" or "ak" instruments. I find that the "regular" and "dm" bore seem to have plenty sufficient projection for orchestral solo playing. To me, the "late model" Loree oboes have a very "pretty" sound, though lacking "core" "depth" and "complexity" to the sound, skating over the surface of the "acoustical pond."
The Royale is a "thick wall" instrument, and thus has a "darker" sound than the "standard" Loree. My experience has been that oboists often become bored with the "duller" sound of the Royale oboes. Some of the late "B" series oboes (late 1960s) were "thick wall" instruments, made to compete with the "dark" Kreul/Lucerne and German Gordet oboes ("thick wall") that were in great favor at the time.
My favorite Loree vintages:
BEWARE: many FAKE B series "Loree" oboes exist, also known as "Chiassarini Fakes"- made in fact by Malerne.
Mid to late "H" series (mid 1980s), and I, and J. Some exceedingly "lyrical" and reminiscent of B and C series oboes.
"A" series (1930 to 1959) Utterly sweet ! Some professionals even today only play A series oboes, especially AR, AS serial numbers.
Some (though not all!) early D series oboes seems to be on a par with the C series. It is also possible to find some appealing E series oboes, though beware of voicing anomalies such as stuffy, fuzzy, stuffy E
Oboes from the mid-late 1920s- say "CC" through "ZZ"- Ideal for playing Bach...
"dm" bore oboes, especially "I" series "synthetic" oboes, all plastic- pre-H series- practically impossible to discern any difference in tone from the wood oboes. Loree seems to have used [so far] three different types of polymer to make their synthetic oboes. At first (from about CC  to about 1980) Loree used a polymer, "mottled" grey in color, that was different from any other polymer ever used by any other maker. Hard to find on the second hand market and expensive. Perhaps only about 40 such oboes exist. Next, Loree used a gray colored polymer. The solid gray may not be as desirable acoustically as the earlier mottled gray/white polymer oboes.
The H series and newer synthetic Loree oboes employ a polymer jet-black in color- likely Acrylic. I find that this black polymer does not have the "warmth" or "core" to the sound I find in the earlier instruments made of the mottled gray polymer. However, in recent years, Loree seems to have gone back to using the gray colored polymer.
AVOID: G series. Far too many G series oboes seem to be endowed with intractable anomalies. Extremely low resale values for good reason. I am not too keen on the F series oboes either...
LOUIS - LONDON - Loree copies. Good maker. Most thumbplate system.
LUDWIG, FRANK - Reputed to be absolutely first class in every respect.
LYM - The Lym oboes (1950s-1960s) seem to be based somewhat on the design of the post war "A" series Loree oboes. In the 1960s, the Lym oboe was favored by many studio musicians in Los Angeles . Beautifully crafted. Some play exquisitely, though others seem to have minor voicing anomalies. Sweet, facile, lyrical, heaps of character and complexity to the sound. Ideal for playing Bach. I am extremely fond of Lym oboes.
MAHEU (Belgium) - No information available.
MALERNE - Usually best to simply AVOID Malerne oboes. Very inconsistent, though I have found one or two examples that had a huge, singing tone, almost reminiscent of a late model Loree "ak" bore oboe. The keywork of the later Malerne oboes is "clunky" in the extreme.
MARIGAUX- Excellent maker overall. Some of the Marigaux oboes (S-M-L, Strasser, or Marigaux) were marketed by the King Musical Instrument Company back in the 1960 and 1970s. Well made, usually having good to excellent playing characteristics. "Penetrating" and somewhat "bright" sound. Some of the mid 1990s model Marigaux oboes I find appealing. The newest model (M2) seems to have a "pretty sound," though lacking in complexity.
I am especially fond of the clear Acrylic"Altuglas" oboe with gold plate keywork - lovely sound. Truly expensive! Ergonomically comfortable instruments.
T.MARKARDT - Germany. A very good, and, at times, a most excellent maker. Automatic octaves.
MIGNOT - I have owned a Mignot. Exceedingly well made, and it played well. However, it did not seem to "lock into" pitch centers. Rare.
MOENNIG - (Germany) Pre-2008 -good, though the keywork is "so-so"... The new Moenning oboes well worth a look, though they seem to have a "bright" sound.
MOLLENHAUER - (Germany) No information available.
R. MUELLER - (Bremen) no information available.
ORSI - Best to avoid the oboes.
OTLEY (MDK) - UK out of business in the 1980s ? Very well made. Large bore. Keywork design is nearly "post modern." BIG sound. Free blowing. Comparable to Marigaux, Howarth. Worth a look...
PATRICOLA - To date I have not been impressed by this maker... My advice: Avoid! However, a few players seem to favor/ like Patricola. I have yet to find even one example so far to be appealing in any respect.
PLATZ - Student models only - best to avoid.
TH. POPPE - No information available.
PRESTINI - (Italy) Good to (at times) excellent maker. Very well made, good voicing. Sweet, lyrical.
PUCHNER - (Germany) Newly redesigned acoustically 2008. One of the two Puchner oboes shown at the 2008 IDRS convention was absolutely "ethereal" in every respect. The (very) Germanic keywork design was not especially comfortable ergonomically if your happen to be accustomed to French style keywork. Expensive.
RIGOUTAT - Very good to excellent maker overall. Played
extensively throughout Europe. I especially like the
oboes from the 1980s, before the introduction of the
(dismal) "Evolution," "Symphony," models- best to
avoid. Low resale value.
The "Expression," can be very good, at times "just
so." The newest model called "J" can be sublime.
The "J" seems to have a timbre reminiscent of a
Laubin oboe. May need some minor touches to the
voicing to have it "just so" for American scraped
reeds. The finish details at the "sub-atomic" level not
up to the same standard as Hiniker, Howarth, Loree,
A. ROBERT - A good maker, though inconsistent. Loree's main competition in France before WWII. The Robert oboes seem to be a lot like the "A" series Loree oboes. Often recommended for oboists with small hands.
SANTONI - AVOID. Pare, Italy.
T. SPARKES - (Australia) Artist/artisan maker, often makes oboes out of exotic woods, such as "Mulgawood" native to the Australian desert. Tom also uses stainless steel for the mechanical elements of his oboes. A good (though not "great") sounding oboe. The design of the keywork is beyond "post modern" - not comfortable, and the spacing between the key touches on the lower joint is difficult - too far apart.
F. SCHULLER - good-excellent maker Most have automatic octave system.
SELMER - Often best to AVOID completely. However, I have found on rare occasion a Selmer professional model (wood or plastic) that will play very well. Selmer has far too many model designations - confusing.
SPRINGER - No information available at present
THIBAUD - (Paris) stencil instruments, Some Kreul, some Bulgheroni, and some ? I have a "Thibaud" Oboe and a "Thibaud" English horn in nearly perfect condition - both horribly FLAT in pitch- sold with bore and tone hole sizing and undercutting not finished!
THIBOUVILLE - Predecessor to Cabart.
TRIEBERT - First class maker. Very elegant, "high-end" instruments. Couesnon sold oboes stamped Triebert well into the 1930s.
UEBEL - No information available at present
WARD and WINTERBOURNE - Avoid
WERNER WETZEL (Hamburg) - Reputed to be excellent.
G. WOLF - very good maker, though Guntram's oboes have not yet found a market in North America. Famous for bassoons, contrabassoons, and the "Contreforte." Wolf also makes Viennese style oboes with either the traditional Viennese system, or modern French keywork, Conservatory system.
YAMAHA - Most seem to sound "bland" and lacking in personality. However, I have had a model 841 for sale I thought to be very good. The engineering of the keywork is (in my opinion) nowhere near on a par with say Loree, Bulgheroni, Howarth, Covey, Hiniker.
STUDENT OBOES - If you must buy an oboe with less than FULLEST
Conservatory system, some recommendations for "modified Conservatory" oboes:
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