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Franz DANZI (1752-1821)
Bassoon Concerto No. 1 in F major [19:22]
Bassoon Concerto No. 2 in F major [17:34]
Johann Baptist VANHAL (1739-1813]

Concerto for Two Bassoons in F major* [21:57]
John Heard (bassoon), Taras Osadchiy (bassoon)*
Camerata Kiev/Alexander Ostrowski
rec. National Recording Hall, Kiev, 28, 30 June 2004. DDD
KLEOS CLASSIC KL5136 [59:21]

During the course of the eighteenth century concertos for the bassoon were written more frequently – without ever becoming an entirely common occurrence, even if Vivaldi wrote almost forty concertos for the instrument! There are later concertos by, amongst others, J.C. Bach, Stamitz, Johann Christoph Vogel, Hummel and, of course, Mozart. Danzi, just four years older than Mozart, was later to count Weber amongst his friends, and there is a sense in which, musically speaking, he belongs between the two of them. Certainly in listening to the two concertos here one is likely to think of Weber’s Bassoon Concerto in F (Opus 75) at least as much as of Mozart. Himself a cellist by training - his Italian father played cello in the orchestra at Mannheim – Danzi wrote in most musical genres, though his music for woodwinds is perhaps most familiar. He seems to write with particular sympathy and understanding for the bassoon – he composed bassoon quartets as well as concertos for the instrument, and in his Wind Quintets he gives the bassoon more prominence than many composers are prone to do. Both of the concertos here employ the conventional three movement structure of fast-slow-fast; the first – though I can’t claim to be familiar with the numbering of Danzi’s works I seem to remember encountering this concerto numbered otherwise – closes with variations on an Austrian song of which Weber also made use in his Variations for Viola and Orchestra. The second concerto ends with a demanding Polacca - played with assurance by John Heard.

Born in Bohemia of a family in serfdom, Vanhal had to buy his freedom – which he did with money earned from composing – and later established himself very successfully in Vienna as composer and teacher. He wrote at least one concerto for single bassoon and one – played here – for two bassoons. Orchestras of the classical period increasingly employed two bassoons, so it was not unnatural that composers should occasionally write a concerto for both instrumentalists. Vanhal’s is one such, in the playing of which John Heard is joined by Taras Osadchiy, principal bassoon of the National Symphony of Kiev. Vanhal writes some attractive imitative passages for the two soloists, not least in the central andante grazioso where the voices of the two bassoons interweave elegantly amidst musical comments from the strings. Unfortunately, I have to report that my review copy had a pressing fault on this track; on some players it produced a loud click, on others a complete standstill. A great shame and not, I trust a fault to be found on all copies of the CD. In other respects the recording is fine, with a natural balance and pleasing clarity.

Without being in any way spectacular, and without drawing inappropriate attention to itself, the playing of John Heard (and of Osadchiy) is fine, technically highly competent and with a good sense of style. Camerata Kiev are obviously a an expert chamber orchestra, well marshalled by Alexander Ostrowski. It is, though, a shame that the programme should be made up of three concertos all in the same key.

In an eighteenth-century book of travels which I have recently been reading - Ideas, suggested on the spot in a late excursion through Flanders, Germany, France and Italy (1790) - Adam Walker reports on the experience of attending a concert in the Louvre. Having praised some clarinet music, he writes "A duet was performed between this charming instrument and a grunting bassoon – or rather two solos, to show off the performance on each instrument. The clarinet was wonderfully played, and the piece admirably adapted for it. But the bassoon part, though well performed, was something like an elephant trying to dance a hornpipe – certainly that unwieldy toned, dull hedge-stake, was never designed to display rapidity of execution?" Such were – and to a lesser extent perhaps still are – the prejudices with which the bassoon had to contend at the time that these concertos were written. I would like to think that if Mr. Walker had heard the performances on this CD he would have been persuaded that the bassoon is rather more than a "dull hedge-stake" and that "rapidity of execution" on the instrument can serve thoroughly musical ends.

Glyn Pursglove



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