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Concertos and sonatas for bassoon

[I] Antonio VIVALDI (1678 - 1741): "Concerti per fagotto I"
Sergio Azzolini, bassoon
L'Aura Soave Cremona
Dir: Diego Cantalupi

rec: Nov & Dec 2009, Soresina (CR), Santuario di Ariadello
Naďve - OP30496 (© 2010) (74'45")

[II] "Il fagotto virtuoso - Sonate italiane del secolo XVIII"
Sergio Azzolini, bassoon
Ensemble L'Aura Soave
Dir: Diego Cantalupi

rec: Oct 18 - 20, 2008, Soresina (CR), Santuario di Ariadello
MV Cremona - MVC 009-027 (© 2009) (71'73")

[I] Concerto for bassoon, strings and bc in C (RV 471); Concerto for bassoon, strings and bc in C (RV 477); Concerto for bassoon, strings and bc in e minor (RV 484); Concerto for bassoon, strings and bc in F (RV 488); Concerto for bassoon, strings and bc in G (RV 493); Concerto for bassoon, strings and bc in g minor (RV 495); Concerto for bassoon, strings and bc in B flat (RV 503)
[II] Paolo Girolamo BESOZZI (1704-1778): Sonata per fagotto; Gaetano CHIABRANO (1725-1800): Sonata per fagotto e basso; Giovanni Benedetto PLATTI (1697-1763): Sonata for harpsichord in c minor, op. 4,2; Gaetano PUGNANI (1731-1798), arr anon: Sonata per bajón in G; Francesco RICUPERO (?-?): Sonata I per fagotto e basso; Giuseppe TARTINI (1692-1770) (attr): Sonata per basso

[II] Ai Ikeda, bassoon; Diego Cantalupi, archlute, guitar; Davide Pozzi, harpsichord

Antonio Vivaldi was one of the most prolific composers of music for bassoon. No less than 39 concertos for bassoon, strings and basso continuo are listed in the catalogue of his works. To that a number of concertos for various instruments and concerti da camera have to be added which include a part for bassoon. It is not quite clear, though, for whom Vivaldi composed his music for bassoon. No names of bassoon virtuosos from Italy are known. It is also notable that there is no documentary evidence that the bassoon was played in the Ospedale della Pietŕ where Vivaldi acted as maestro de concerti. That has led to the assumption that the largest part of his oeuvre for the bassoon has been written for players at the various courts elsewhere in Europe with which Vivaldi had connections.

It is without any doubt that the players for whom the concertos were written had considerable skills as they are technically demanding. That is reflected in the seven concertos which are played by Sergio Azzolini and L'Aure Soave Cremona. Some concertos have strong theatrical traits, just like concertos for other scorings, in particular for violin. The most pronounced specimen of such pieces is the Concerto in g minor (RV 495), a key which Michael Talbot in his liner-notes characterises as "Vivaldi's favourite tempestuous key". It indeed is reminiscent of other concertos in which Vivaldi refers to the sea and in particular storms at sea. At the other end of the spectrum we find the Concerto in e minor (RV 484), one of the best-known bassoon concertos which ends the programme.

The theatrical nature and sometimes highly dramatic character of many concertos comes off extremely well in these performances. The exuberant playing of the orchestra is well suited to bring out the imagination which Vivaldi displays in these pieces. Listening to this disc one is consistently reminded of Vivaldi's activities as a composer of operas. But the more lyrical side of his oeuvre as it particularly comes to the fore in some slow movements is equally well realised. The interpretation includes rather big dynamic contrasts, which seems to serve the expression of the character of these concertos rather well. The variation in tempo within movements also contributes to the tension they incorporate. Some fast movements end in pretty extreme rallentandi. I am not sure whether that is justified. Now and then I wondered whether the playing was probably a bit exaggerated. There is a fine line between fully exploring the drama of these concertos and doing too much. But that shouldn't deter anyone interested in the bassoon or in Vivaldi's music to purchase this disc.

Michael Talbot writes that "it is a reasonable surmise that, just as they often doubled on the flute and recorder, many oboists possessed and played bassoons". Such a player is present at the second disc: Paolo Girolamo Besozzi, a member of a dynasty of musicians which goes back to the 16th century. Most Besozzis were active as oboists, and so was Paolo Girolamo. He worked as virtuoso d'oboe at the service of Duke Farnese of Parma and since 1731 he acted as bassoonist at the court in Turin. According to New Grove no compositions from his pen are known but he is often mentioned as co-author of pieces by his brother Alessandro. As New Grove doesn't list any bassoon sonata by Alessandro either we have to conclude that the Sonata per fagotto is an important discovery, not only historically but also musically. It is a very fine piece, just like the other sonatas on this disc most of which were unknown. At the same time the programme could be seen as a confirmation of Michael Talbot's observation that the bassoon seems not to have played such an important role in Italy after Vivaldi. First of all, apparently it was impossible to fill a whole disc with sonatas from the post-Vivaldian era, as a harpsichord sonata by Platti had to be included. Secondly, most music on this disc wasn't originally composed for the bassoon.

Gaetano Chiabrano was a cellist by profession, and a large number of cello sonatas from his pen have survived. Six of them mention the bassoon as the alternative, but there can be little doubt that they were written from a cellist's perspective. Gaetano Pugnani was one of Italy's leading violinists, a pupil of Giovanni Battista Somis - uncle of Chiabrano - and composer of a wide variety of works. All solo sonatas are for violin, but one of them has been discovered in a transposition for bassoon and bc in the archives of Saragoza Cathedral. That shouldn't surprise as the bassoon - the bajón as it was called - played an important role in liturgical music in Spain since the 16th century.

Francesco Ricupero doesn't have an entry in New Grove and the booklet doesn't give the dates of his birth and death. He lived in the second half of the 18th century and composed mostly sacred music. The Sonata I per fagotto e basso is from a collection of sonatas for transverse flute. One of these also appears in a version for bassoon. Lastly Giuseppe Tartini: as he was Italy's most famous violinist in the mid-18th century one doesn't expect a sonata for bassoon from his pen. He almost exclusively composed for his own instrument, but also wrote some concertos for cello or viola da gamba. It is likely the Sonata per basso which was recently discovered in a private collection, was conceived as a work for cello and bc. The track-list says it is attributed to Tartini; the doubt about the authenticity isn't referred to in the liner-notes.

This disc is the result of intensive research by Sergio Azzolini, not only in regard to the repertoire, but also performance practice. Despite the relatively late date of some pieces he decided to use two baroque bassoons rather than a classical type. His arguments are convincing, and so is his playing. Most sonatas are technically demanding, but also musically enthralling, and both aspects are impressively explored by Azzolini. He is mostly supported by archlute or guitar and harpsichord, and Ai Ikeda on the bassoon. Her role isn't quite clear: the asterisk after her name seems to refer to the sonata by Besozzi only. But she is also involved in the other sonatas, except Tartini, where the basso continuo is played at the archlute alone. Does the asterisk mean she played the solo part in Besozzi, and Azzolini the bass part? The realisation of the basso continuo is brilliant, and the bass group really pushes Azzolini. In several movements the plucked instruments are used as percussion, which not always seems necessary. Davide Pozzi delivers a very fine account of Platti's harpsichord sonata.

The Vivaldi disc is very good, this disc with sonatas even better, also because of the original and first-rate repertoire. Those who love the bassoon shouldn't miss either of them.

Johan van Veen (© 2011)

Relevant links:

L'Aura Soave

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