Judith Leclair – Works for Bassoon
Roger BOUTRY (b.1932)
Interférences for bassoon and piano (1972) [8:52]
Bernard ANDRÈS (b.1941)
Chants d’arrière-saison for bassoon and harp [17:45]
Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Sonata for bassoon and piano in G major Op.168 (1921) [12:25]
Ludwig MILDE (1849-1913)
Andante and Rondo for bassoon and piano Op.25 [8:59]
Polonaise for bassoon and piano [7:05]
Reinhold GLIÈRE (1875-1956)
Humoresque for bassoon and piano Op.35 No.8 [2:20]
Judith Leclair (bassoon)
Jonathan Feldman (piano)
Gretchen van Hoesen (harp)
rec. February 2007-June 2008, Bicoastal Music, Ossining, NY
AVIE AV 2181 [58:31]

There’s a strong though clearly not exclusively French thread that runs through the programming of this engaging recital disc. Judith Leclair has ensured that there is a good balance between pieces, and also that the structure of this disc, which deliberately starts with the most recent work, flows attractively.

In fact Boutry’s Interférences, which was composed in 1972, is a promising beginning. Whilst it plays on contrast – between ‘texture and material’ – it also manages to conjoin more traditional French verities with some intriguing inflexions from outside the tradition. Do I, for example, detect some Bop-derived piano figures in the opening flurry? Certainly the bassoon’s laconic soliloquy also hints at jazz rhythms without effusively embracing them. But there are also terser and chordally withdrawn moments, as well as a rolling piano episode that is nothing if not exciting. Altogether this is a worthy recital piece for bassoonists of enquiring minds.

Bernard Andrès’s Chants d’arrière-saison (Songs of A Season Past) is written for horn or cello or bassoon and harp. In seven brief movements it sets out to beguile the listener with charm and sonic pleasures. Harpist Gretchen van Hoesen plays a full part here, and admirably. If I say that, to me, it sounds like music for an Eric Rohmer soundtrack, then I mean it as a compliment. It is wistful, nostalgic and full of warm longing, though never over-loquacious. Its concision is a virtue and its opening out to include vaguely Eastern sounds [No.5] and little Bardic moments [No.7] attest to the tapestry of rich lyricism embedded into this delightful opus. It’s beautifully played all round.

Saint-Saëns’s Sonata was a very late work, completed in the year of his death. The writing for the piano is characteristically refined, the bassoon stealing in with ardent lyric malleability, adding its own baroque-tinged hues. Deft articulation from Leclair ensures that the fast moving Scherzando loses nothing in wit, and she manages to vest the brief introductory Adagio passage of the finale with concentrated warmth. Saint-Saëns takes the bassoonist ‘way on down’ in the Allegro moderato that follows and also ensures that the sonata ends with real charm.

After these contrasting works we have a brace from Ludwig Milde, almost wholly known as a composer for the bassoon. The Andante and Rondo is another charming effusion, the first part of which allows Leclair to spin her unwavering legato and tonal colour to full measure and to disport with Jonathan Feldman’s agile piano in the winsome and affectionate Rondo. Feldman is also deft in the Polonaise that follows where there are plenty of tricky ensemble difficulties to overcome. The Glière Humoresque is a winning little encore to close the recital.

Though recorded on a variety of occasions the recorded sound is consistently fine. With mellifluous and always engaging performances I can’t imagine many nay-sayers to this recital disc.

Jonathan Woolf