Let me tell you
Stratospheric Barbara Hannigan
Birmingham and BBC Proms
One to treasure
One of the
Book and CD
Book + 4CDs
Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741) Seven
Favourite Bassoon Concertos Concerto
No.16 in C major (RV 469) [10:20]* Concerto
No.33 in C major (RV 470) [10:37]* Concerto
No.19 in F major (RV 488) [8:02]** Concerto
No.17 in C major (RV 472) [10:28]** Concerto
No.5 in D minor (RV 481) [10:28]** Concerto
No.4 in C major (RV 474) [9:30]* Concerto
No.22 in F major (RV 486) [8:30]*
Daniel Smith (bassoon) English
Chamber Orchestra/Philip Ledger rec.
no details provided. Originally issued ASV*1986,**1989 REGIS RRC 1277 [68.24]
am a great admirer of Daniel Smith. The bassoon is officially
an 'endangered' species of musical instrument and it is up to
players like him to promote the bassoon as a major solo instrument.
In this he has succeeded admirably because he performs regularly
in both classical and jazz fields.
Smith has recorded all 37 of Vivaldi's bassoon concertos -
a terrific feat within itself. One has to admire the talents
of the young ladies at the Ospedale della Pieta where Vivaldi
taught for many years and for whom he wrote many concertos.
The bassoon is technically a very demanding instrument.
Smith plays a modern instrument, which differs in timbre and
structure from the Baroque bassoon, and maybe it would have
been worthwhile for him to make these recordings on a Baroque
instrument, which would have been much more of a technical challenge.
The modern bassoon is full of extra 'handy' keys, which make
playing today a lot easier. One also has to argue the case for
the use of excessive vibrato in Baroque music and Smith certainly
uses it a lot.
However all bassoonists would agree that these concertos are
technically demanding and Smith displays a fine technical command
of the instrument. From a pedagogical point of view the concertos
require a great deal of scale and arpeggio work which suits
some keys better than others on the bassoon. They feature embellished
bass lines, which suit the bassoon perfectly, and big arpeggiated
leaps which Smith copes with admirably.
The description that these are seven 'favourite' bassoon concertos
is rather worrying, as I don't think bassoonists have a favourite.
As far as I can tell from the track-listings they are recorded
in catalogue (RV) order from 469 to 486. This listing does not
provide a huge amount of variety in keys and also includes many
of the least technically demanding works.
All of the concertos on this CD are in the standard fast-slow-fast
form. RV469 in C-major has bright string playing from the English
Chamber Orchestra admirably directed by Philip Ledger at the
harpsichord. Indeed the continuo playing throughout the CD is
I do worry about intonation problems from Smith. The bassoon
is renowned for its tuning capabilities and the C-major concertos
work the best. Concerto No.19 in F-major (RV 488) works least
well on this CD despite being the shortest and easiest one featured.
This is because the tenor clef note F on bassoons can be very
flat. Numerous fingerings are available and I don't think Smith
works hard enough at curing intonation problems in this register.
Dynamic contrasts are also an issue in the Baroque period simply
because none were written in the music! However modern theory
and performance demands require us to put in our own dynamics
to enhance expression. I feel at times that Smith could use
more dynamic contrast particularly in the slow movements.
Smith is a long way from the microphone at times. The earlier
recordings from 1986 project the bassoon a lot better than the
later ones recorded in 1989. This is particularly apparent in
Concerto No.19 in F-major (RV 488). The soloist seems quite
distant in places compared to the strings. This has to be the
most disappointing concerto on the CD. There is some excellent
string playing on all tracks but they do tend to overwhelm the
soloist at times. This is particularly noticeable in the RV472
Concerto No.17 where in the first movement a particularly resonant
low B on the bassoon, resolving to the C, is then spoiled by
the increasingly excited string crescendo.
It is also a pity that so many of the concertos featured on
the CD are in major keys. It is a welcome relief when Concerto
No.5 in D-minor (RV481) comes along. This is a much more 'user-friendly'
key than its relative, F-major. However this can cause intonation
problems again with sharp As. Someone as experienced as Smith can easily
cure these problems.
There are many individual highlights on this CD. The gorgeous
string playing in the Larghetto of RV470 and again in the Largo
Smith's playing also has special features. Throughout the CD
he displays a fine technical command despite some untidy articulation
in one or two places such as the Allegro molto in RV481. His
use of ornamentation is superb throughout and he sings on the
lowest notes with great ease - much to be admired.
As there is not a huge amount of contrast among these works,
this is an album that is better 'dipped' into by bassoonists
and Vivaldi fans alike. Ideal reference material.
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