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Bassoon Power

Henri DUTILLEUX (b.1916) Sarabande et Cortège
Paul CHIHARA (b.1938) Fleeting Shadows, Still Reflection
Paul CHIHARA (b.1938) The Beauty of the Rose is in its Passing (with harp)
Gernot WOLFGANG (b.1957) Moody Blues
Vincent PERSICHETTI (1915-1982) Parable for Solo Bassoon
Alexandre TANSMAN (1897-1986) Suite pour Bassoon
Zdenek SESTAK (b.1925) Five virtuoso Inventions
David Breidenthal (bassoon)
Gloria Cheng (piano)
Lou Anne Neill (harp); William Lane, Ralph Pyle (horns); Mitchell Peters (percussion) (Chihara)
Chihara: Recorded 2001-2; Recorded in 1978.


First, a very big ‘well done’ to Crystal Records. This is the ninth Crystal CD to be devoted to the bassoon and its amazingly vast repertoire. Many players have been enlisted and many types and groupings of bassoons, including the contra and bassoon quartets. Sadly I have not heard any of the others but if David Breidenthal is typical then I am certainly the poorer for that. He is the principal bassoonist of the Los Angeles Philharmonic a position he has held for over thirty years. His tone is mellow and sometimes in need of more attack. However the recording may be at least partially responsible for this. He is a virtuoso player who has the ability to make difficult music and challenging passages sound easy. Some of these works were written especially for him including Chihara’s ‘Fleeting Shadows’ a work inspired by the composer’s cats.

Although none of the pieces is weak, anyone can see from the track listing that they are, for the most part, completely unknown. Indeed all of the 20th century pieces here are by composers, whose works are sparsely represented on CD.

Sestak can be taken as an example. The anonymous booklet notes don’t have much to say about him, giving much less information than on the other composers and their work. Much of what is there is pure waffle, for example "he is one of Eastern Europe’s most accomplished composers". The noters say that he studied the musical archives "of his homeland to expose the creative work of past masters and records much of their music". None of this is particularly apparent in his clever and inventive ‘Virtuoso Inventions’. The disc opens with a wistful early work of Henri Dutilleux sounding more like Debussy or André Caplet. Apparently it is one of his most performed works.

The best-known composer next to Dutilleux is the Pole, Alexandre Tansman. He lived in France where he knew Stravinsky and Milhaud and later moved to America. The influences of all of these can be heard in his sprightly seven-minute, three movement suite.

It seems that Paul Chihara’s impressionistic ‘The Beauty of the Rose is in its passing’ was recorded on LP in 1978. It is not scored for bassoon and piano but for the delicious combination of bassoon, two horns, harp and percussion. It also has the best recording quality. At only eight minutes duration and with so little for the ensemble (the bassoon excepted) to do it seems a hopelessly impractical work for a concert item. This is a pity because it made the most favourable impression of any of the works on the disc.

What immediately strikes the listener about the disc is that although the bassoon is recorded fairly upfront and naturally the piano sometimes sounds as if it’s in another room; an unfortunate miscalculation this, particularly in such richly harmonized music. Gloria Cheng is a very sensitive accompanist and it is unfortunate to say the least that some of her best work is practically lost.

None of these pieces are what used to be termed ‘squeaky-gate’ music. In each work it is the line and each composer’s individual lyricism that comes to the fore. This singing quality might be in the long winding melody of Persichetti or in the blues-inflected chromaticism of Gernot Wolfgang’s wonderfully varied ‘Moody Blues’.

Despite the fact that I can be mostly positive about the CD, this is probably a disc for the woodwind enthusiast or an aficionado of the bassoon. A quick glimpse at Crystal Records’ current advertising indicates that they are producing more discs of the bassoon repertoire. Watch this space!

Gary Higginson

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