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Gioacchino Rossini (1792 – 1868)

Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra (1845)
Variations in C for Clarinet and Orchestra (1810)
Introduction, Theme and Variations for Clarinet and Orchestra (1810)
Variations in C (Version for Oboe and Orchestra) (1810)
Une Larme for Cello and Strings (arr. Giovanni Sollima)
Sergio Azzolini (Bassoon)
Lorenzo Guzzanti (Clarinet)
Diethelm Jonas (Oboe)
Wen-Sinn Yang (Cello)
Streicher-Akademie Bozen - Accademia d’Archi di Bolzano
Georg Egger, Leader and Conductor
Recorded August/December 2000, Auditorium Collalbo
ARTS 47634-2 [56.28]


Bassoon concertos are not so common that we can ignore recordings of new ones, even a concerto with as confusing a provenance as the one with which this disk opens. In 1868 a priest called Giuseppi Gregiati made a collection of manuscripts (now in the library at Ostiglia, near Mantua) which included a concerto for bassoon and orchestra which he attributed to Rossini. The concerto appears to date from between 1842 and 1845 which is the period when Rossini was in Italy, acting as advisor to the Music School in Bologna. One of the pupils from this period was bassoon player Nazzareno Gatti. One of Gatti’s obituaries in 1893, stated that Rossini wrote him a Bassoon Concerto. The manuscript itself is littered with annotations, which has caused some scholars to attribute the concerto to a collaborative effort between Rossini, Gatti and Domenico Liverani (a teacher at the Bologna Music School). It is notable that neither Bruno Cagli of the Fondazione Rossini, nor the Rossini scholar Philip Gossett have endorsed the attribution. If it truly is by Rossini, then the work has another attraction besides being one of his rare orchestral works. In the 1840s Rossini virtually stopped composing. His late works all date from the period after 1855 when he returned to Paris. So the concerto would represent a unique example of a ‘late - middle period’ Rossini, coming after the operas but before the ‘Petite Messe Solennelle’ and the ‘Sins of Old Age’.

Whoever wrote it, the concerto was probably written for Gatti’s final examinations and consists of three contrasting movements in diverse keys, with suitable opportunities for virtuoso display in the first and last movements. In 1994, the concerto was edited for publication by the bassoon player Sergio Azzolini, so it is fitting that he is the soloist for this, the work’s first recording. It is not a long work, just over 16 minutes in total, opening with a lively Allegro (the work’s longest movement) and finishing with a Rondo Allegretto with a lyrical Largo as the work’s middle movement.

The CD is completed by two early works for Clarinet and Orchestra, the ‘Variations in C’ and the ‘Introduction, Theme and Variations for Clarinet and Orchestra’ (the Variations are also heard in a version of Oboe and orchestra), and finally a concertante work for Cello and Strings, ‘Une Larme, thème et variations’. This group of concertante works virtually spans Rossini’s entire composing career. The two clarinet works date from 1810, the period of his first operas and the cello piece was written originally for Cello and Piano and published the ninth volume in the late ‘Sins of Old Age’, it was arranged in its present form by Giovanni Sollima.

In the bassoon concerto, Sergio Azzolini has an attractive warm tone and is fully equal to the display passages in the work. The orchestration takes great care that the solo bassoon is not covered and generally the full orchestra is reserved for the ritornelli and the orchestra interruptions. The orchestral contributions from the Streicher-Akademi Bozen, under their founder Georg Egger, retain the work’s fragile charm. In style, the work displays something of that ‘Weber goes to Italy’ type charm which is also a feature of the two clarinet works on the disk. Sergio Azzolini has a sure grasp of the style, wit and charm play an important part, and there were a number of moments which made me smile. In the central Largo, with its singing melodies, Azzolini plays with a beautiful mellifluous tone.

In all the works on this disk, you feel that the opera house is not far away, Rondo or Theme and Variation form are the two main structural devices. This bassoon concerto is a charming work. Don’t expect a full blown romantic concerto, its more like a short scene from an opera with three contrasting arias. But it is none the worse for that and it is full of melodic charm.

The two early concertante works for Clarinet are more well known and are available on a number of recordings. The performances on this disk make acceptable fillers. But the clarinettist (Lorenzo Guzzanti), though equal to the works considerable virtuoso demands, has a tone that turns rather hard and shrill in its upper register. This rather robs the works of the wit and charm, which is their most attractive quality. The oboist (Diethelm Jonas) provides an efficient account of the oboe version of the ‘Variations in C’. I felt the both soloists lacked the right style, giving performances that rarely seemed to rise above the efficient, though there was never a question of their ability to play these virtuoso works. But lacking the requisite style, there are just too many places where the solo part seems to be nothing but a series of arpeggios.

The opening of the final work on the disk is in a different world. The slow, romantic introduction to the cello variations is recognisably from the hand of the composer who had written ‘Guillaume Tell’. It is a rather more sophisticated work than the preceding clarinet and oboe works. The slow introduction is a haunting atmospheric piece, followed by a linking section which is almost a separate movement, leading to the statement of the theme and the variations. These variations rarely lapse into the sort of routine passages which can occur in the other works on the disk. There is ample room for virtuoso display and the cellist (Wen-Sinn Yang) plays these very attractively as well as providing a lovely singing tone in the slower opening sections.

Having listened to this disk, I do wonder quite how much Rossini is in the Bassoon Concerto, but it is a charming work none the less. This disk is work acquiring for this work and the cello variations, but there are very much charming sidelines from a composer whose main attention was very firmly elsewhere.

Robert Hugill

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