“And the oboe it is clearly understood/ Is an ill wind that no one blows good.”
So sang Danny Kaye in the 1947 film The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. As William Scheide had founded the Bach Aria Group the year before, and Danny had obviously never heard Robert Bloom play, we can forgive the comedian his oversight.
Robert Bloom --- considered by many to be the greatest oboist of his time and the first American ever to be listed in the Grove Dictionary of Music --- joined the Bach Aria Group in its first year and remained with the BAG as one of its principal members until his retirement. As a young man he had studied at Curtis Institute with the legendary first oboe of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Marcel Tabuteau, the greatest teacher of his day and the man most responsible for changing the sound of that double-reed instrument from a bucolic instrument often associated with shepherds and bag-pipers to one of the most vibrant and expressive solo instruments of the modern symphony orchestra.
After playing English horn for Leopold Stokowski in Philadelphia (1930-1936) and then oboe with José Iturbi in the maestro’s pre-MGM days as conductor of the Rochester Philharmonic, Bloom was chosen in 1938 to be first oboe in the orchestra the National Broadcasting Company collected for Arturo Toscanini. Bloom left the NBC Symphony after six years to become one of the leading free-lance chamber music players and recording artists in New York.
In 1946 when William Scheide came up with the then revolutionary idea of creating a musical ensemble devoted solely to playing the cantata music of the Bach, there were few singers who specialized in the baroque repertoire, to say nothing of instrumental soloists. Scheide had the genius to interest such unlikely candidates as the Metropolitan opera star and successor to Caruso, Jan Peerce, in this then obscure and difficult music. Both Peerce (ne Jacob Pincus Perelmuth), a great cantor in his own right, and Bloom the son of one, had both grown up listening to liturgical (if hardly Lutheran) music; perhaps for that reason alone both men understood that the arias from these great vocal works required a rich and resonant cantabile style hitherto not associated with Bach.
Some critics of the day objected strongly, claiming that the vocal works of the Leipzig Kapellmeister were not operas, but those of us who were there at the legendary Town Hall concerts thrilled to the ringing and vibrant sound that these two great performers and their soulful collaborators were able to produce.
Robert Bloom died in 1994. One of the oboists in the Boston Symphony said of him that he was "one of our greatest singers . . . who happened to play the oboe."