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Early Music

Classical Editor: Rob Barnett                               Founder Len Mullenger

Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Complete Bassoon Concertos - Volume 2
Concerto in F major, RV486 [8:00]
Concerto in C major, RV475 [9:36]
Concerto in Bb major, ‘La Notte’, RV 501 [8:33]
Concerto in F major, RV 488 [7:58]
Concerto in Bb major, RV 504 [10:58]
Concerto in C major, RV 467 [10:06]
Tamás Benkócs (bassoon), Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia/Béla Drahos
Recorded at the Phoenix Studio, Budapest, Hungary, 25-28 February 2003
NAXOS 8.555938 [55:11]


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Antonio Vivaldi’s thirty-nine+ concertos for the bassoon were written for pupils – all girls – at the Venetian orphanage where he worked for many years as director of music.  Clearly, these girls - or might it have been one exceptional girl – who knows? - were no slouches, for the concertos present all kinds of serious technical challenges.  They call for effortlessly smooth finger-work, rapid tonguing, easy familiarity with all registers of the instrument, and above all, an ability to project an expressively intense melodic line.  And all of this on the 18th century bassoon, which had precious little key-work to assist the player.

To regard these pieces as mere ‘teaching material’ would be completely wrong and unfair.  Yes, their quality is uneven; but the best of them contain delightful music, full of Vivaldi’s natural gifts of melodic and harmonic invention.  Although the strings and continuo undoubtedly act as a discreet backdrop for the soloist for much of the time, their parts are always enjoyable to play, and full of beguiling little details.

As I listened to this CD, I warmed more and more to the work of the performers.  Though the Hungarian soloist, Tamás Benkócs, plays on a modern instrument, he is a superb stylist, and manages to characterise the music strongly without ever seeming to distort it.  Meanwhile, Béla Drahos and the Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia give sympathetic, unobtrusive support, while playing with the necessary gusto when necessary.  Balance between soloist and tutti is always exemplary.

My personal favourite of this selection?  It has to be the unusual B flat Concerto subtitled La Notte (‘The Night’), with its programmatic character bringing it close to the ‘Seasons’ in nature.  But they’re all lovely; give it a try – at Ł4.99. you cannot go wrong, and, who knows, this could change your entire perception of one of the most beautiful, but also one of the most misunderstood, of musical instruments.

Gwyn Parry-Jones



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