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Antonio VIVALDI (1678-1741)
Seven Favourite Bassoon Concertos
Concerto No.16 in C major (RV 469) [10:20]*
Concerto No.33 in C major (RV 470) [10:37]*
Concerto No.19 in F major (RV 488) [8:02]**
Concerto No.17 in C major (RV 472) [10:28]**
Concerto No.5 in D minor (RV 481) [10:28]**
Concerto No.4 in C major (RV 474) [9:30]*
Concerto No.22 in F major (RV 486) [8:30]*
Daniel Smith (bassoon)
English Chamber Orchestra/Philip Ledger
rec. no details provided. Originally issued ASV*1986,**1989
REGIS RRC 1277 [68.24]


I am a great admirer of Daniel Smith. The bassoon is officially an 'endangered' species of musical instrument and it is up to players like him to promote the bassoon as a major solo instrument. In this he has succeeded admirably because he performs regularly in both classical and jazz fields. 

Smith has recorded all 37 of Vivaldi's bassoon concertos - a terrific feat within itself. One has to admire the talents of the young ladies at the Ospedale della Pieta where Vivaldi taught for many years and for whom he wrote many concertos. The bassoon is technically a very demanding instrument. 

Smith plays a modern instrument, which differs in timbre and structure from the Baroque bassoon, and maybe it would have been worthwhile for him to make these recordings on a Baroque instrument, which would have been much more of a technical challenge. The modern bassoon is full of extra 'handy' keys, which make playing today a lot easier. One also has to argue the case for the use of excessive vibrato in Baroque music and Smith certainly uses it a lot. 

However all bassoonists would agree that these concertos are technically demanding and Smith displays a fine technical command of the instrument. From a pedagogical point of view the concertos require a great deal of scale and arpeggio work which suits some keys better than others on the bassoon. They feature embellished bass lines, which suit the bassoon perfectly, and big arpeggiated leaps which Smith copes with admirably. 

The description that these are seven 'favourite' bassoon concertos is rather worrying, as I don't think bassoonists have a favourite. As far as I can tell from the track-listings they are recorded in catalogue (RV) order from 469 to 486. This listing does not provide a huge amount of variety in keys and also includes many of the least technically demanding works. 

All of the concertos on this CD are in the standard fast-slow-fast form. RV469 in C-major has bright string playing from the English Chamber Orchestra admirably directed by Philip Ledger at the harpsichord. Indeed the continuo playing throughout the CD is superb. 

I do worry about intonation problems from Smith. The bassoon is renowned for its tuning capabilities and the C-major concertos work the best. Concerto No.19 in F-major (RV 488) works least well on this CD despite being the shortest and easiest one featured. This is because the tenor clef note F on bassoons can be very flat. Numerous fingerings are available and I don't think Smith works hard enough at curing intonation problems in this register. 

Dynamic contrasts are also an issue in the Baroque period simply because none were written in the music! However modern theory and performance demands require us to put in our own dynamics to enhance expression. I feel at times that Smith could use more dynamic contrast particularly in the slow movements. 

Smith is a long way from the microphone at times. The earlier recordings from 1986 project the bassoon a lot better than the later ones recorded in 1989. This is particularly apparent in Concerto No.19 in F-major (RV 488). The soloist seems quite distant in places compared to the strings. This has to be the most disappointing concerto on the CD. There is some excellent string playing on all tracks but they do tend to overwhelm the soloist at times. This is particularly noticeable in the RV472 Concerto No.17 where in the first movement a particularly resonant low B on the bassoon, resolving to the C, is then spoiled by the increasingly excited string crescendo. 

It is also a pity that so many of the concertos featured on the CD are in major keys. It is a welcome relief when Concerto No.5 in D-minor (RV481) comes along. This is a much more 'user-friendly' key than its relative, F-major. However this can cause intonation problems again with sharp As. Someone as experienced as Smith can easily cure these problems. 

There are many individual highlights on this CD. The gorgeous string playing in the Larghetto of RV470 and again in the Largo of RV474. 

Smith's playing also has special features. Throughout the CD he displays a fine technical command despite some untidy articulation in one or two places such as the Allegro molto in RV481. His use of ornamentation is superb throughout and he sings on the lowest notes with great ease - much to be admired. 

As there is not a huge amount of contrast among these works, this is an album that is better 'dipped' into by bassoonists and Vivaldi fans alike. Ideal reference material. 

Lynda Baker


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