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Early Music

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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Complete Bassoon Concertos Volume 1

Concerto in C major for bassoon, strings and basso continuo, RV 476
Concerto in F major for bassoon, strings and basso continuo, RV 487
Concerto in C major for bassoon, strings and basso continuo, RV 471
Concerto in A minor for bassoon, strings and basso continuo, RV 498
Concerto in C minor for bassoon, strings and basso continuo, RV 480
Concerto in B flat major for bassoon, strings and basso continuo, RV 503
Concerto in G major for bassoon, strings and basso continuo, RV 493
Tamas Benkocs (Bassoon)
Nicolaus Esterhazy Sinfonia/Bela Drahos
Recorded at the Phoenix Studio, Budapest, Hungary, 3-7 March 2002. DDD
NAXOS 8.555937 [61:32]


Although Vivaldi was a virtuoso violinist and wrote the massive total of 253 concertos for the solo violin, he was able to compose imaginatively and expertly for a wide range of instruments, writing an impressive corpus which numbered 545 concertos at my last count.

Vivaldiís remarkably large number of 39 bassoon concertos is by far the largest single contribution to the instrumentís repertoire and more than he wrote for any instrument other than the violin. In addition Vivaldi composed another 34 concertos that included the bassoon in combination with other solo instruments. Exactly why Vivaldi wrote so many solo concertos for an instrument that rarely takes the limelight is unclear but it is not unreasonable to believe that Vivaldi had a gifted bassoon virtuoso in mind. It is known that at the Pio Osedale della Pieta the bassoon was played and it is possible that one of the girls had a particular talent that inspired the composer. However it is much more likely that Vivaldi was commissioned to write for the bassoon by a wealthy German patron for his court orchestra. In this he would undoubtedly have been following the fashion of the day for collecting Italian music and taking it back to Germany.

These seven bassoon concertos selected by Naxos for volume 1 easily demonstrate proof of Vivaldiís durability and consistent inventiveness in writing for the genre. Each of the concertos adheres to the composerís typical three movement Allegro-Largo-Allegro format with bountiful and original episodes of rhythm, harmony and melody. It is the slow movements that make the deepest impression for me. I marvel at Vivaldiís genius for consistently delivering expression, charm and depth.

Although we are not told, the Nicolaus Esterhazy Sinfonia under the experienced direction of Bela Drahos and bassoon soloist Tamas Benkocs sound as if they are using modern manufactured instruments. Generally I favour performances using period instruments however this present disc shows is a most successful approach from all the Hungarian forces providing worthy and distinctive interpretations. Those listeners who consider the bassoon to be of only limited appeal will surely think twice after hearing these expressive performances. Benkocs is a gifted soloist who demonstrates amazing breath control and proudly maintains the tradition of stellar Hungarian wind playing. He breathes life into every single note revealing himself as a master of the harsh technical and challenging interpretative requirements of Vivaldiís late baroque music-making. The Nicolaus Esterhazy Sinfonia impress under Bela Drahos giving committed and characterful performances.

The main rival for Vivaldi bassoon concertos is the complete set from the English Chamber Orchestra under Philip Ledger and the Zagreb Soloists under Tonko Ninic with Daniel Smith as soloist on ASV CDDCX 625 (6) which has many favourable attributes This first volume in a projected cycle of the complete bassoon concertos from the Naxos wins convincingly on virtuosity, style and character and augurs well for the remainder. Another concerto could have been easily accommodated on this disc. Naxos are not alone in seemingly preferring about an hour of music on their discs.

This is a most satisfying disc of music that will undoubtedly reward. Highly recommendable and one is left eager to hear the forthcoming volumes.

Michael Cookson

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