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FRENCH MUSIC FOR BASSOON
Gabriel PIERNÉ (1863-1937) Solo de Concert op. 35
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835 – 1921) Sonata op. 168
Noël-GALLON (1891 – 1957) Récit et Allegro (1938)
Henri DUTILLEUX (b.1916) Sarabande et Cortège (1942)
Maurice ALLARD (b.1923) Variations sur un thème de Paganini
Pierre GABAYE (b.1930) Sonatine pour Flûte et Basson (1962)
André JOLIVET (1905 – 1974) Pastorales de Noë (1943)
Masahito Tanaka, bassoon, Kazue Kojima, piano, Shigeko Tojo, flute, Srika Inoue, harp
Recorded Oct 1995, Mitaka-City Arts-Center Japan
PAVANE ADW7349 [64:44]

 

Experience Classicsonline

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.

 

Gwyn Parry-Jones

 



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