Johann Wilhelm HERTEL (1727 - 1789)
Con spirito
Concerto for bassoon, strings and bc in a minor [17:58]
Sinfonia in D [7:06]
Concerto for bassoon, strings and bc in B flat [14:57]
Sinfonia in G [7:28]
Concerto for bassoon and orchestra in E flat [22:41]
Sinfonia a 6 for two bassoons, strings and bc in B flat* [10:45]
Sergio Azzolini, Miho Fukui (*), bassoon
Capriccio Barockorchester/Dominik Kiefer
rec. 17-20 February 2010, Evangelisch-Reformierte Kirche, Arlesheim, Switzerland. DDD
TUDOR 7182 [82:11]

Some composers are pretty much known for just one piece. In the case of Johann Wilhelm Hertel it is his trumpet concerto in E flat which is in fact a double concerto for trumpet and oboe. His oeuvre is considerable, though, and includes vocal music - mostly sacred - and instrumental works. He composed almost fifty concertos for one or more solo instruments. Three bassoon concertos are the thread of this Tudor programme by the Swiss ensemble Capriccio and the Italian bassoonist Sergio Azzolini.

Hertel was born in Eisenach as the son of Johann Christian, a violinist and composer who from 1733 was the Konzertmeister of the court orchestra. It is likely that Johann Wilhelm was taught the violin by his father. He also received keyboard lessons from a pupil of Johann Sebastian Bach. In 1742 Johann Christian was appointed as Konzertmeister of the court orchestra in Neustrelitz, and his son entered the orchestra as violinist and harpsichordist. He had close contact with musicians working at Frederick the Great's court in Berlin, and took violin lessons from Franz Benda. It brought him also into contact with poets who were representatives of the Enlightenment, like Lessing and Ramler. Hertel became an exponent of the Enlightenment as well. He started to write for a magazine in Hamburg and was very interested in educating people in musical matters. In the 1760s he moved to the court of Mecklenburg-Schwerin, becoming the secretary of Princess Ulrike Sophie. In the next years he composed intermezzi for two plays by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing for the first German national theatre in Hamburg which were received well. He also composed oratorios for Ludwigslust, which since 1767 had been the new residence of the duke of Mecklenburg-Schwerin.

Considering that the number of bassoon concertos - apart from those by Vivaldi - is not that large Hertel did modern bassoonists a great favour by composing at least three. And these are no trifles, but quite substantial works. The first piece on the programme, the Concerto in a minor, is quite explosive: one could think that it was written by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach. It is an exponent of the Sturm und Drang, with sudden dynamic outbursts and many twists and turns in the orchestra and in the solo part. The Concerto in B flat is closer to the Empfindsamkeit, with many Seufzer and a highly expressive adagio. In the closing Allegro ma non presto the bassoonist gets the opportunity to show his skills once again. As Hertel's concertos were not printed and he himself didn't date them it is impossible to tell when they were written. The Concerto in E flat gives the impression of being a rather late work as it is a fully classical solo concerto. The orchestra, consisting of strings and pairs of oboes and horns, is an equal partner of the solo instrument.

The three Sinfonias are also notable for their scoring. The Sinfonia in G is for strings with two horns in the first and last movements. The orchestra in the Sinfonia in D reflects the scoring of the classical orchestra: the strings are joined by pairs of flutes, oboes and horns. The disc ends with a return to the baroque era with the Sinfonia a 6 in B flat. It is for two bassoons, strings and bc, but here the bassoons have a solo role to play. The piece is in four movements: sinfonia, Plaisanterie, air largo and a menuet with trio. This structure and the idiom are reminiscent of the baroque orchestral suite as they were written by, for instance, Telemann and Fasch.

Hertel is a typical example of a composer whose oeuvre shows the development from the baroque to the classical style. And he is certainly no minor master. Capriccio and Sergio Azzolini have put together an arresting programme. The bassoon concertos are even quite exciting, also thanks to the performance. Azzolini is one of the world's leading players of the baroque bassoon, and he displays the instrument's array of capabilities. There is some great athleticism in his performances, but also deep-felt emotion. The orchestra plays with aplomb and the cooperation between soloist and orchestra is impeccable.

If there is any way to demonstrate that a little-known composer deserves more attention, this is the way to do it. The character of the music and the outstanding performances are ample justification to label this disc 'recording of the month'. Let's hope your CD player can handle a disc which lasts more than 82 minutes.

Johan van Veen

If there is any way to demonstrate that a little-known composer deserves more attention, this is the way to do it.