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A Harvest of Twentieth Century Bassoon Music
Ray LUKE (1928-2010)
Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra (1965) [19:20]
Dan WELCHER (b.1948)
Concerto da Camera for Bassoon and Orchestra (1972-75) [24:09]
Heitor VILLA-LOBOS (1884-1959)
Ciranda das Sete Notas [10:11]
William MATTHEWS (b.1950)
Sumer is Icumen in - Lhude Sing [8:33]
Marcel BITSCH (1921-2011)
Concertino [7:29]
David NOON (b.1946)
Motets and Monodies [9:39]
Leonard Sharrow and Joseph Polisi (bassoons)
Ronald Rosenman (oboe); John Snow (English horn); Thomas Schmidt (piano)
Crystal Chamber Orchestra/Ernest Gold
rec. 1970s, ADD
CRYSTAL CD342 [79:51]

Experience Classicsonline


Crystal continue to innovate and please. Their work for American music and chamber music is well known and especially, though not exclusively, for wind instruments. They have also taken up the Poseidon LP catalogue and given it new life so that we can hear a massive slice of the Hovhaness catalogue. Not Poseidon but their newly reissued Cristofori Hovhaness two-piano concerto entry restores to circulation a CD issued to a small circulation some eight years ago (review of original). Their mighty series of the Reicha wind quintets has culminated in a 12 CD boxed set which I hope to write up ’ere too long.
 
The present disc lends new life to analogue recordings made in the mid-late 1970s and issued on vinyl in 1976-77. They sound splendid. The CD celebrates the bassoon artistry of Leonard Sharrow and Joseph Polisi. Polisi wrote the definitive study of the life and music of William Schuman.
 
Luke’s Bassoon Concerto is by no means his only major work. There is a Piano Concerto which landed the top award at the Queen Elizabeth competition in Belgium. His prize-winning opera Medea should not be overlooked. Those two works fell in 1959 and 1969. His career moved from Texas to Oklahoma. The present concerto was written for the Oklahoma City Symphony Orchestra and its distinguished conductor, English-born Guy Fraser Harrison who, with soloist Betty Johnson, commissioned this subtle work. Harrison championed Luke's music. Luke wrote the Concerto while staying at the MacDowell colony. It's a winning piece whose atmosphere one could cut with a knife. It's modern yet not rebarbative. The colours it establishes are often subdued, even in the finale which comes after a cloying lichen-draped central movement. The work’s liveliness is anxious and at times even sinister.
 
Dan Welcher was another Eastman product but one who moved to continue his studies in Manhattan. His idiom is rather like Rawsthorne. The work began as a sonata for bassoon and piano. The composer, whose extensive programme note is included in the booklet, tells us that the piece, which had a longish evolution, was inspired by the then-recent death of Shostakovich. The DSCH motif puts in an appearance. There are no easy answers here. In the glinting middle scherzo the music skips and skims along yet is by no means carefree. There’s a moving finale - dark and moody - that fades down into a quite magical epilogue.
 
Sharrow proves himself a master of his instrument. Part of his artistry comes from the way in which he manages to minimise key noise; not that it's silent but it is much suppressed. Art defies mechanical production.
 
The Ciranda is fresh and constantly inventive. William Matthews Sumer Is Icumen In - Lhude Sing was written for Polisi in 1978. It’s for solo bassoon accompanied by four recorded bassoons. This Maine-born composer proves to be a modernist with an accessible face; this despite the innovative graphic notation exemplified in the booklet. Marcel Bitsch was a student and later the Professor at the Paris Conservatory. His piece evinces a complete contrast with the Matthews. The music has a distinctly Ravel-like inflexion. The compact and lithe little 1948 Concertino reminded me of Ravel’s Pavane. We need to hear more Bitsch. The final piece by David Noon (Yale and Warsaw) was again written especially for Polisi. If Matthews throws a life-belt to the listener Noon sees no need: the music is very fractured and long lines are broken. Dissonance is in play in this querulous, defying and probing work.
 
This CD could hardly be fuller of music rich in contrast, affluent in variety. The bassoon in its various guises is centre-stage and its two heroic advocates are Polisi and Sharrow.
 
Rob Barnett 

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