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The Proud Bassoon
Les Gentils Airs: Les Sauvages (Rameau) (1726) [2:08]: La Furstemberg (Corrette) [4:46]: Tambourin (Rameau) (1724) [1:16]
Joseph Bodin de BOISMORTIER (1689-1755)
Sonata in E minor for bassoon and continuo, Op.50 No.1 (1734) [8:30]
Sonata in G major for bassoon and continuo, Op.50 No.2 (1734) [10:11]
Johann Friedrich FASCH (1688-1758)
Sonata in C major for bassoon and continuo, FaWV N:C1 (c.1728) [10:48]
François COUPERIN (1668-1733)
Les goûts–réunis, ou Noveaux concerts: Treizième Concert [8:30]
Georg Philipp TELEMANN (1681-1767)
Sonata in F minor, TWV 41:f1 (1720s) [10:58]
Matthew DUBOURG (1707-1767)
Eileen Aroon, with variations set by Mr Dubourg (1745) [2:28]
Peter Whelan (bassoon)
Ensemble Marsyas (Sarah McMahon (cello); Thomas Dunford (lute); Philippe Grisvard (keyboard))
rec. September 2012, Wigmore Hall, London
LINN SACD CKD 435 [60:44]

Dispelling buffoonery with pride, Peter Whelan here unveils a peerless selection of early music for the bassoon the better to dispense with old jokes at the instrument’s expense. And few are better equipped to do so than the principal bassoonist of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, accompanied by members of Ensemble Marsyas. Whelan, incidentally, plays on a bassoon made by Peter De Koningh in 1994 after a Prudent Thierrot, c.1770. Given the instrument’s provenance and its early establishment in France around the 1670s it’s not surprising that the buttressing material in the programme is Gallic. Developments in German-speaking lands are represented by two of the most eminent of composers.
Whelan whets the appetite by opening with a crowd-pleasing and ear-titillating selection from Les Gentils Airs, an anthology designed for private or salon use compiled at some point in the mid-eighteenth century. Rameau is duly represented by two much performed works for keyboard - Les Sauvages, played with memorable agility, and the Tambourin that was also later appropriated by violinists for their use. Michel Corrette’s La Furstemberg completes the keyboard trio with its own dose of rustic vitality. From an older tradition we find four pieces from Couperin’s Les goûts–réunis, ou Noveaux concerts: Treizième Concert which are full of elegant simplicity.
Whelan performs the two Op.50 sonatas of Joseph Bodin de Boismortier, written in 1734. Elegant and galant in style they respond to the rich sense of colour that Whelan evokes, and by the virtuosic way in which he negotiates the awkward leaps in the Gigue finale of the G major. Technical traversal is something taken for granted in his performances – he is the Indiana Jones of bassoon playing – but allied to this is his splendid sense of legato. His breath control in the Allemanda of the E minor is a thing to hear.
It’s also historically piquant to hear what may well be the earliest recognised sonata for the instrument, by Johann Fasch, composed around 1728. Even here the propensity of composers to write difficult intervallic leaps is evident – clearly they had players who could negotiate them - as is the serio-comic way in which Whelan’s little hesitations in the sonata’s Allegro second movement bring things so vividly to life. Telemann’s Sonata in F must also be one of the very earliest sonatas, published in parts in the 1720s, and sounding very chromatic, as well as elegantly lyrical. As an envoi we hear Eileen Aroon, the Irish air which was arranged for bassoon and continuo by Matthew Dubourg, Handel’s first violinist in Dublin. This doesn’t survive but Dubourg’s harpsichord arrangement of the tune – it’s also known as Eileen O’Roon – has survived. Whelan has fashioned this bassoon and continuo version from that harpsichord original and it makes a charmer of a way to say farewell.
Though the focus is inevitably on Whelan, it would be quite wrong to omit a salute to Sarah McMahon (cello), Thomas Dunford (lute) and Philippe Grisvard (keyboard) who provide such articulate and deft colour-conscious collaboration. The Wigmore Hall recording sets the seal on a deeply rewarding recital, one that will stimulate and entertain in equal measure.
Jonathan Woolf