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Eastern Discoveries - Music for bassoon and piano from Eastern Europe
Four Bulgarian songs (arranged for two bassoons by Maria Wildhaber) (2013)* [11:18]
Boris PAPANDOPULO (1906-91)
Elegy for bassoon and piano (1965)* [6:03]
Scherzo for bassoon and piano* [3:54]
Benzion ELIEZER (1920-1993)
Sonata for bassoon and piano (1969)* [10:59]
Tadeusz BAIRD (1928-1981)
Four preludes for bassoon and piano (1954) [7:06]
Luboš SLUKA (b.1928)
Sonata for bassoon and piano (1954 – arranged for bassoon 1971) [16:09]
Maria Wildhaber (bassoon), Scott Pool (bassoon) (Trad), Mia Elezovic (piano) (Papandopulo), Tania Tachkova (piano) (rest)
rec. 2012, Adelphi University Hall, Garden City, New York and Yale University Marquand Chapel, New Haven, Connecticut, USA.
*World première recordings
MSR CLASSICS MS1517 [55:33]

This disc is a fascinating miscellany of pieces for bassoon, an instrument that is rarely heard as a main protagonist. On this showing it should be featured more often. Bulgarian bassoonist Maria Wildhaber has rooted out some interesting little gems that emphasise its singing qualities.

Kicking the disc off is a delightful set of four traditional Bulgarian songs arranged for two bassoons. Maria Wildhaber shares the playing with fellow bassoonist Scott Pool. There is something irresistibly earthy about the folksongs of Eastern Europe. Perhaps that is because they have remained unsanitised by successive generations. They have preserved their original character which helps link us to the past. This rural ‘earthiness’ is enhanced by the bassoon’s low register.

Next come two world première recordings of pieces for bassoon and piano by the Croatian Boris Papandopulo who is little known and rarely recorded. Reviews of his Piano Concerto No. 2 (1947), Sinfonietta for String Orchestra, Op. 79 (1938) and Pintarichiana for String Orchestra (1974) CPO 777 829-2 were posted on the MusicWeb International site earlier this year (review review). It was made Record of the Month. It's a case of ‘you wait ages for a bus then two come along nose to tail’. These two works have not only never been recorded before but the Scherzo was only discovered recently in Croatia. Maria Wildhaber plays it from the original manuscript. The Elegy is suitably mournful with irresistible melancholia. The Scherzo is in complete contrast with a bustling and bubbly syncopated persona.

The Sonata for bassoon and piano by the Bulgarian Benzion Eliezer is a substantial work for bassoon and is also receiving its world première recording here. Considering it is Eliezer’s only work for bassoon it certainly shows how well he understood its capabilities. Its songlike nature often made me think of a bass-baritone. The work requires a high degree of skill on the bassoonist’s part with the much of the final movement’s fast rhythms a particular case in point.

Tadeusz Baird’s Four preludes are delightfully lyrical in character, especially the third, marked Adagio, con dolore. This shows how especially suited the bassoon is to the portrayal of sadness.

This unusual and intriguing disc closes with another substantial sonata for bassoon and piano by the Czech composer Luboš Sluka. This also appears on another disc from MSR of pieces for bassoon and piano, From the Heart, played by bassoonist Frank Morelli MSR 1458. Sluka is a father figure in Czech contemporary music circles having written over 350 works, including scoring 70 feature films and 30 TV productions. He is one of those rare composers to have had an asteroid named after him. His sonata shows an intimate understanding of the complexities of the instrument and once again this work would test the mettle of any performer.

Maria Wildhaber manages beautifully to emphasise the bassoon’s lyrical qualities in all the works on the disc. She also captures those moments when the bassoon is portrayed as rather pompous, showing herself to be a real virtuoso of this sometimes seemingly unwieldy instrument. She is ably accompanied by all three of her colleagues. The disc as a whole is full of interest and discovery as its title suggests. A thoroughly enjoyable experience.

Steve Arloff