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Karen Geoghegan plays Bassoon Concertos
Johan Nepomuk HUMMEL (1778-1837) Grand Concerto W23 for Bassoon and Orchestra in F major [23:45];
Carl Maria von WEBER
(1786-1826) Andante e Rondo ungarese Op 35 in C minor [9:08];
Concert Piece in F major [11:10];
Carl Heinrich JACOBI
(1791-1852) Introduction and Polonaise Op 9 [9:00];
Sir Edward ELGAR
(1857-1934) Romance Op 62 [5:13];
(1898-1937) Summertime [4:36]
Karen Geoghegan (bassoon)
Orchestra of Opera North/Benjamin Wallfisch
rec. 9-10 January 2008, St George’s Hall, Bradford. DDD
CHANDOS CHAN 10477 [51:46]

Sound Samples:

Experience Classicsonline


Karen Geoghegan, runner-up in the BBC’s recent Classical Star programme is on a mission to promote the bassoon repertoire. This, her debut CD, is an ideal starting point. From the opening bars, the quality of the recording is self-evident, with a well balanced and excellently produced orchestral sound. By the time the bassoon enters, one is already immersed in quality, and it is easy to question whether a young performer such as Geoghegan can match those standards.

Not only does she match them, she surpasses them. Her sound quality is extraordinary, proving her argument that the bassoon is deeply expressive, worthy of being taken seriously as a solo instrument. The Hummel concerto is the work that brought her to Chandos’s attention initially, during the final of Classical Star, and this recording leaves no doubt about the artistry of this exciting young performer. The faultless technical work is never a burden - something often expected from this notoriously cumbersome instrument - and in Geoghegan’s hands, the bassoon is agile and flexible. The slow movement is breathtaking, with her depth of sound something that should be experienced by all. The cadenza is particularly stunning, with some beautifully resonant low notes contrasted against a singing high register. She has an instinctive feel for phrasing and spacing, using silence to give extra weight to the notes she plays. The orchestral playing is also impressive, with Wallfisch capably handling the impressive Orchestra of Opera North. The finale has charm and personality, and a sense of youthful enjoyment. This is a fresh, exuberant performance, which is captivating from beginning to end.

The Weber that follows is mysteriously dark in its opening Andante, and the subsequent variations are expertly performed. The Hungarian Rondo has a charming appeal, with its light-hearted nature and strong rhythms. The accompaniment from the orchestra is poised and contained, giving a perfectly balanced accompaniment, which features well-presented solo moments from various wind players. Geoghegan once again performs with style and understanding, and a maturity of musicality which one would not expect from somebody her age. Her command of her instrument is truly remarkable, in both the fast paced moments, such as the dramatic end of the work, and in the slower, more expressive passages.

Berwald’s Concert Piece follows, composed in 1827 and first performed in the composer’s native Sweden in the following year. There is a strong operatic influence in the writing, and the bassoon takes on the role of a resonant tenor voice. The Andante, with its surprising setting of a famous British tune - listen to the CD to find out which one! - is exquisite, performed with deep-felt expression. The wide leaps and technical display in the following variations are equally impressive, further displaying this young performer’s breadth of ability.

Not many will have previously encountered Jacobi. Born in Germany in 1791, he was a prolific composer of works for bassoon. Karen Geoghegan has often spoken about the multitude of bassoon works which are not often heard by the general public, and Jacobi’s works are a prime example of this. The Introduction and Polonaise is well constructed and is more usually heard in a version for bassoon and piano. This is the world premiere recording of the orchestral version, with the sleeve-notes explaining that the orchestration was copied by bassoonist William Bailey from an unknown source in the early twentieth century. The version works well, and the orchestration seems natural and carefully balanced. The piece makes considerable technical demands of the soloist, played here with typical evenness and sense of ease. She proves that the concept of a virtuoso bassoonist is certainly not a myth.

Forming a very obvious contrast, Elgar’s compositional style suits the bassoon equally well. Composed later than the other works, in 1910, it makes use of the expressive qualities of the instrument, with Geoghegan’s luxurious sound showing the music off at its best.

The final track is an orchestration of Gershwin’s Summertime, in an arrangement by David Arnold. This is one of the highlights of the disc, showing an entirely different aspect to the bassoon in a way which reaches out to the listener. Geoghegan’s sound is ideally suited to this music, and she has a relaxed jazzy feel, capturing the essence of the work and rivalling many jazz singers. The bassoon has a wonderful vocal quality in its higher registers, which is unmissable here. It is perhaps difficult to include such a well-known and popular track on a disc such as this, but it balances nicely with the rest of the programme and shows the bassoon in its best possible light.

Despite the obvious criticisms of reality TV and a culture of people who try to achieve fame overnight without the hard work that goes with it, it is evident that Classical Star found some real talent. It is clear that Geoghegan has spent her life so far working hard and nurturing her abilities, under the careful guidance of some excellent teachers, such as Janet Bloxwich and John Orford. With a disc such as this, it is impossible not to take the bassoon, and Karen Geoghegan, seriously.

Carla Rees

see also interview with Carla Rees



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