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Now and Then – The New York Bassoon Quartet; Recorded works from 1999 and 1979
Christopher WEAIT (b.1939)

Suite of Early American Tunes for Bassoon Quartet
John CORIGLIANO (b.1938)

How I like pellucid statues, Daddy (Or like a…an engine) (1994)
Serge PROKOFIEV (1891-1953)

Humorous Scherzo, op.12 no.9 (1915)
William SCHUMAN (1910-1992)

Quartettino (1939)
John HARBISON (b.1938)

Canzonetta (1962)
Peter SCHICKELE (b.1935)

Last Tango in Bayreuth (1973)
Katherine HOOVER (b. 1937)

Sinfonia (1977)
Alvin BREAM (b.1925)

Colloquy and Chorale (1974)
Vaclav NELHYBEL (1919-1996)

Concert Etudes for Four Bassoons
Rudolph PALMER (b.1952)

Contrasts for Four Bassoons (1976)
The New York Bassoon Quartet – Bernadette Zirkuli, Julie Feves, Lauren Goldstein, Jane Taylor
The first five items, recorded 1979, Rutgers Church, New York, the others recorded 1999 in the Town Hall, New York.
LEONARDA LE 348 [72:59]


Same-instrument ensembles can be very disappointing – multiple flutes or oboes don’t work that well, though clarinets are much better, because of the availability of bass and contrabass instruments. But multiple bassoons can be quite wonderful, if the players can achieve blend, balance and stylistic unity. All of those things the New York Bassoon Quartet possess in generous quantities. It is quite a remarkable achievement to have recorded two lots of music twenty years apart, with a rather specialised ensemble such as this, and to produce such high quality across all the tracks. They clearly all kept practising in the interim, and this CD is a delight to listen to.
The bassoon quartet has a long and honourable history, which can be traced all the way back to Michel Corrette’s Le Phoenix of the mid-18th century. Nonetheless, it’s not surprising that all of the works here come from the past thirty years or so, which is why it was such a good idea to include the very tuneful and accessible arrangements of traditional American melodies by Christopher Weait, himself a distinguished player of the instrument. The attractive tunes are superbly arranged, and the final jig, called ‘Captain Mulligan’, is well-nigh irresistible.
John Corigliano is possibly best known as a film composer – he wrote the music, for example, for The Red Violin. Overlooking the perhaps slightly pretentious title, this is a marvellous little piece, creating surprising and original textures, particularly towards the ending, with its wild upward rushing figuration.
The Prokofiev Humorous Scherzo is the best-known piece written for this combination, and is delightful. I revelled in the contrast between the bustling opening and the chorale-like passage that follows at 0:51 (track 8). The quartet’s tuning here is outstanding.
It’s a close call, but for me, the Schuman pieces are the most musically exciting items on the disc. The first one, Ostinato, has restless triplets in the bass, while the upper parts have jagged staccato phrases. Each of the four movements is tiny, none more than a minute or so, but the textures and moods are vivid and compelling. This is a miniature masterpiece, no less. John Harbison’s enjoyably gritty Canzonetta completes the 1999 section of the recording.
The 1979 group begins with a piece by the redoubtable Peter Schickele (a close relative of the great P.D.Q.Bach, of course), his profoundly stirring Last Tango in Bayreuth. This transmogrification of Wagner’s Tristan Prelude is one of Professor Schickele’s most brilliant mickey-takes, turning the famous opening into the moodiest of tangos; in fact, if listened to with all the objectivity one can muster, this is really exquisite, though perfect Wagnerites will probably be too busy having a seizure to appreciate its wonders. Lohengrin puts in a welcome guest appearance, too.
The remaining tracks are all by modern American composers, all well worth listening to. I found Katherine Hoover’s Sinfonia the finest, indebted to Ravel, I think, at the start, but developing into an impressive and powerful utterance.
If you are unfamiliar with music for this ensemble, then do give the NYBQ a try. This is so very much more than a mere ‘novelty’ disc. There is superb music here, with music-making and musicianship to match, all captured flawlessly in this very fine recording.

Gwyn Parry-Jones

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