There is a long and healthy tradition of solo
music written for wind instruments in France, and Masahito Tanaka
and his friends have put together a fine anthology of French
bassoon music from the past century or so. The first four items
are reasonably familiar to bassoonists, though only the Saint-Saëns
is likely to be known at all to a wider audience.
Tanaka begins with the Pierné ‘Solo
de Concert’, which, though essentially one of the many French
‘Conservatoire’ solos, i.e. intended for teaching and examination
purposes, is in fact a very fine piece – wonderfully written
for the instrument and containing a splendidly smooth ‘big tune’.
Tanaka plays the piece far too gently, though, going for copious
rubato and a caressing approach, whereas the character is energetic,
even forceful, as hinted by the piano introduction.
He is much more successful in the Saint-Saëns
however. In the very beautiful opening movement, his finely
focused tone and mostly impeccable intonation are a joy, and
he gives an affecting performance. He has fantastic fingers,
too, as he demonstrates in the fiendishly tricky scherzo which
follows. The final run up to the stratospheric top E is highly
effective – and highly impressive! Tanaka’s tonal range, though,
remains narrow compared to, say Kim Walker’s much more varied
performance on Regent (not sure if this is available any more).
The Noël-Gallon (hyphenated, by the way,
not Christian name and surname as given on the disc) is another
inoffensive recital piece, but the Dutilleux which follows is
a different kettle of fish, a hugely demanding work, which explores
the highest register of the bassoon in a magical way in the
Sarabande. The ‘Cortège’ that follows needs to be characterised
more strongly than Tanaka does here if it is to achieve its
full potential. Nonetheless, this is a much more than acceptable
performance of a taxing little masterpiece.
The Allard is a curiosity; completists will
be anxious to add it to their list of pieces based on the famous/notorious
Paganini theme. It’s certainly a tour de force of writing for
the instrument, as you might expect from Maurice Allard, who
is a legendary soloist, revered by bassoonists (and many others)
the world over. It starts on conventional enough ground, but
fairly quickly we move into areas where the player need a really
transcendental technique in all senses – amazing!
Less jaw-dropping, but perhaps more musically
satisfying, are the two short works that complete the disc.
The Gabaye Sonatine for flute and bassoon is a vivacious, skittish
piece, reminiscent of the world of Les Six. Tanaka is ably assisted
by Shigeko Tojo’s scintillating flute, here and in the Jolivet
Trio which follows. They are joined for this by the accomplished
harpist Erika Inoue, and between them they give a sympathetic
performance of this unusual and very lovely Christmas piece.
The four movements are entitled The Star, The Magi, The Virgin
and Child, and Entrance and Dance of the Shepherds. The
scenes are portrayed gently but vividly, using the colours of
the instruments to great effect e.g. the mournful bassoon solo
depicting the long difficult journey of the Magi, or the sparkling
harp writing in The Star.
This CD, then, gets better and better as it
goes on, and is an extremely valuable addition to the discography
of the bassoon, which is not extensive.