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Donaufahrt - Voyage Down the Danube
Ludwig van BEETHOVEN (1779-1827)
Sonata in F major for horn (bassoon) and piano, op.17 [14:59]
Carl Maria von WEBER (1786-1826)
Andante et Rondo ongarese, op.35 [10:02]
Johann Wenzel KALLIWODA (1801-1866)
Morceau de Salon for bassoon and piano, op.230 [8:49]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Sonata in G major for violin (bassoon) and piano, K.379/373a [21:57]
Franz DOPPLER (1821-1883)
Fantaisie Pastorale Hongroise for flute (bassoon) and piano, op.26 [10:34]
Rie Koyama (bassoon), Clemens Müller (piano)
rec. 9-11 July 2014, Grosser Saal, Konzerthaus, Trossingen, Germany
GENUIN GEN15334 [66:23]

Looking at the pictures of the performers on this disc – a lanky guy and a petite young lady – I made the (possibly sexist) assumption that the former was the bassoonist, the latter the pianist. Not so. Rie Koyama is one of many fine female bassoon players to be found around the world and Clemens Müller is her very able accompanist for this recital.

Thinking of the bassoon as an exclusively male instrument is only one of the misconceptions that surround this most wonderful of wind instruments. People also often say that it has a tiny solo repertoire, but could any instrument with 34-plus Vivaldi concertos to its name be so described? Clearly not, though in fairness, it’s noticeable that on the current disc, three of the five pieces have been arranged for bassoon, having been initially written respectively for horn, violin and flute.

There is no question, however, that Rie Koyama is an exceptional musician and an exceptional player of her instrument. The first work on the CD illustrates this well; I had always thought of Beethoven’s Horn Sonata as an uncharacteristically dull piece, having only heard it on the instrument for which it was originally intended. In Koyama’s hands, it is transformed, such is her beauty of tone, musicality of phrasing and tonal variety. She possesses a wonderfully smooth and even tone right throughout the wide range, and, without forcing the sound, she can produce a robust fortissimo, and shade right down to the softest pianissimo. With her partner relishing the Beethovenian piano part, this is a delightful performance.

Carl Maria von Weber wrote a splendid concerto for the bassoon, and, while this Andante and Hungarian Rondo is nowhere near the same level, it demonstrates a similar understanding of the instrument’s character. The minor key Andante is the best part, played by Miss Koyama with such expressive flexibility, while the Rondo has a fast-moving coda in which she can show off her machine-gun triple tonguing.

Bohemian composer Kalliwoda’s Morceau de Salon comes from the same ‘stable’ as the Weber, but is possibly a rather better piece, and again gives these musicians plenty of opportunities to show their great mutual understanding, making an inherently fairly innocuous piece much more interesting. The Mozart violin sonata that follows was more of a problem for me; Koyama’s rich tone and very Romantic approach seemed to me somehow at odds with the essentially 18th century character of the music. It is a fine work – one of the most original of this period of Mozart’s output – and it was a fascinating experiment to re-assign the solo part; but to my mind it doesn’t quite work, in part because of the rather intense vibrato that is applied, particularly in louder passages. It nevertheless left me full of admiration for the soloist’s skill and musicianship, particularly in the area of articulation – that is to say the exact manner of tonguing each note and phrase.

Another recital piece concludes the work, this time an arrangement of music by Franz Doppler, a name that flautists will know for his endless number of compositions for solo flute and flute duet. This Hungarian Pastoral Fantasy is probably among his better pieces; it makes a good conclusion to the disc, because, while this work is no picnic for a virtuoso flautist, it is an incredible challenge for a bassoonist. Rie Koyama surmounts it superbly, producing a climactic torrent of notes, and concluding with a resplendent top F: top line of treble clef.

It’s not in the least surprising to read that this stunning young Japanese fagottist has been winning international music prizes for fun in recent years — she’s just 24 — and already has a flourishing solo career. This CD showcases her talents well; but I would now love to hear her in more substantial repertoire – Hindemith, Saint-Saëns, Elgar - together with her excellent accompanist. It’s so exciting to encounter a young talent of such brilliance – can’t wait for the next instalment.

Gwyn Parry-Jones


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