musica Dei donum

CD reviews

François Devienne: 3 Quartets for bassoon and string trio, op. 73


rec: August 1999, Delft (Neth), Oudkatholieke Parochie
Centaur - CRC 2524 (61'46")

Quartet in C, op. 73,1; Quartet in F, op. 73,2; Quartet in g minor, op. 73,3

Jane Gower (bassoon), Rachael Beesley (violin), Galina Zinchenko (viola), Catherine Jones (cello)

François Devienne (1759 - 1803) was a celebrity in his days, and famous for his playing of the flute and the bassoon. He seems to have liked working day and night, and that could well have led to his death in a mental hospital at the age of only 44. His obituary stated that "his quartets are played everywhere". That has changed since then, because in modern times very few works by Devienne are played and concerts and recordings with his works are relatively rare. On the basis of these quartets for bassoon, violin, viola and cello, that must be considered a pity. This music is great to listen to and full of beautiful melodies. In particular the first movements, which are always the longest, are used by Devienne to show what the bassoon is capable of. The full range of the instrument is used, and there is ample opportunity for the bassoonist to show his or her virtuosity. The slow movements are quite expressive, not only in the part of the bassoon, but also in that of the first violin. The last movements are often quite humorous. Devienne certainly knew how to end a piece: the last bars not only ask for virtuosity from all the players, they contain some surprises as well. For example, the last movement of the second quartet contains a set of variations. At the end, all of a sudden the theme is thrown out of the window to allow the players to show off.

So why is Devienne almost completely neglected these days? Jane Gower gives a good explanation: if this music is played on a modern bassoon, it isn't much more than 'nice'. But Devienne, being an accomplished bassoonist himself, knew all the possibilities and characteristics of the bassoon of his days inside out and made use of them. "The bassoon for which Devienne composed was a five or six-keyed instrument which hardly resembles in tone or technique the intricate machinery that is today's Heckel bassoon. Each chromatic note (...) has to be fingered by means of complicated cross-fingering patterns, each having its own specific tone-colour and attack." These quartets as well as the performance by this ensemble make the advantages of the use of period instruments abundantly clear.
I have nothing but praise for this recording. It is an 'island of pure delight', so to speak. The phrasing and articulation are immaculate. The players use the first edition of 1798, the year in which Devienne composed these quartets. This edition contains many expressive markings, many of which are altered or missing in modern editions. The players are following them as "faithfully as possible", which leads to a most fascinating and expressive interpretation. No wonder: the composer always knows best.
I strongly recommend this recording.

Johan van Veen (© 2002)

CD Reviews