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François DEVIENNE (1759-1803)
Six Sonates pour le basson avec accompagnement de basse
(Six Sonatas for bassoon with bass accompaniment)
Sonata no.1 in F
Sonata no.2 in C
Sonata no.3 in Bb
Sonata no.4 in Eb
Sonata no.5 in e minor
Sonata no.6 in G

Masahito Tanaka, bassoon, Shin-iciro Nakano, harpsichord, Ken-ichi Kamizuka, 'cello
Recorded October 1998 in Akigawa Kirara Hall, Tokyo
PAVANE ADW 7416 [62:46]
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François Devienne was a French bassoonist, flautist and composer of the second half of the eighteenth century. He wrote a huge amount of music, mostly featuring wind instruments. His successful career as a performer found him becoming principal bassoon of the Paris Opera in 1780, and being employed thereafter by Cardinal de Rohan as a chamber musician. Later in life, he became Professor of Flute at the Paris Conservatoire, composed a particularly successful opera, ĎLes Visitandinesí, and wrote a highly influential treatise on playing the flute. After a nervous breakdown (brought about, the excellent note by Masahito Tanaka suggests, by the traumas of the French Revolution), he was admitted to a mental hospital, where he died in 1803.

These six sonatas are delightful, undemanding little pieces. They have none of the ingenuity or sophistication to be found in the music of his contemporaries, Haydn or Mozart, but that is unfairly to compare this music with some of the greatest ever written. What these pieces do have is a thorough understanding of the bassoon, as well as a great, tangible affection for its character. They are written out, as the title suggests, as simply solo plus bass line, which has, correctly in my view, been realised in this recording as a bass line for 'cello, with a harpsichord filling out the implied harmonies. There are many delightful touches, though I wouldnít recommend hearing all six sonatas at one sitting. There is a clear understanding of the humorous qualities of the lower reaches of the bassoonís range (see, for example, the passage descending hesitantly to bottom Bb on Track 1 at around 4.00.) The second sonata has a lovely slow movement in the relative minor, which explores the expressive tenor register, followed by a really jaunty and eventful finale.

Itís not entirely surprising that the fourth sonata is the most musically interesting, the minor tonality drawing some harmonic surprises and modest experiments from the composer. It also has a tranquil slow movement with a most attractive melodic line. But itís the finale with its quirky theme, jumping from one end of the bassoon compass to the other, which really seizes the attention and made me chuckle with enjoyment.

Tanaka plays this and all the other music with enormous accomplishment and style. I reviewed his disc of French music a little while ago, and praised his stunning technical facility, even tone, and superb intonation. All those qualities are needed and displayed here; this is particularly impressive as Tanaka is playing on an early 19th century bassoon, made by the younger Savary in Paris in 1820. This is clearly a beautiful instrument, with remarkably reliable tuning (though credit is here very much due to the player), and a wonderfully open, singing tenor register. The recording shows this off to advantage, though, for my taste, the Taskin harpsichord is a little too close, and one eventually tires of its rather clattering sound, which sometimes overpowers the bassoon.

Otherwise a valuable and enjoyable issue, with much in it to savour. Iím looking forward to hearing more from Tanaka; there is, for example, a good deal of fine British music for bassoon. We need a good recording of the excellent Sonata by Arnold Cooke, to name but one.

Gwyn Parry-Jones



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