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
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
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!