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A Bassoon in Stockholm
Franz BERWALD (1796-1868)
Septet in B flat major for clarinet, horn, bassoon, violin, viola, cello and double bass (1817/28) [23:15]
Quartet in E flat major for piano, clarinet, horn and bassoon (1819) [23:43]
…douard DU PUY (1770?-1822)
Quintet in A minor for bassoon and strings [21:01]
Donna Agrell (bassoon)
Lorenzo Coppola (clarinet)
Teunis van der Zwart (horn)
Marc Destrube (violin)
Franc Polman (violin)
Yoshiko Morita (viola)
Albert Brüggen (cello)
Robert Franenberg (double bass)
Ronald Brautigam (fortepiano)
rec. January 2015, Doopgezinde Kerk, Haarlem, The Netherlands
BIS BIS-2141 SACD [68:53]

Donna Agrell is an internationally-renowned period bassoon player. She is a founding member of the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century as well as a teacher at the Schola Cantorum Basiliensis and the Royal Conservatoire in The Hague. At the time this recording was made, she was pursuing her doctoral studies, researching 19th century Swedish bassoon repertoire; she completed her doctorate in December 2015. The title of her thesis was "Repertoire for a Swedish Bassoon Virtuoso. Approaching early nineteenth-century works composed for Frans Preumayr with an original Grenser & Wiesner bassoon". This album, A Bassoon in Stockholm, is clearly a by-product of her research.

Frans Preumayr (1782-1853) was a bassoon virtuoso who moved to Sweden from Germany at the beginning of the 1800s. Preumayr played on a Grenser bassoon, and was renowned, among other things, for his ability to play and sustain the top E flat, a note well outside the top range of the bassoon at the time. As a result, composers active in Stockholm at that time included the top E flat in some of the solo pieces they wrote for Preumayr. The KonzertstŁck for Bassoon and Orchestra by Franz Berwald (1796-1868) is a well-known example. On this album, two chamber works by Berwald, both including the bassoon, are featured.

Frans Preumayr is known to have taken part in performances of both the Quartet in E flat major for Piano and Winds (1819) as well as the Septet for Clarinet, Bassoon, Horn, Violin, Viola, Violoncello and Double Bass (1817/28) by Franz Berwald. The Septet opens with a slow introduction that leads to the main Allegro. The second movement is interesting and innovative in that there is a Prestissimo episode in the middle, framed by two adagio sections. The use of period instruments lends a transparency that is often missing in modern instrument performances. The playing of the period instrument group is cohesive; not surprising given that, except for clarinetist Lorenzo Coppola and pianist Ronald Brautigam, all of the musicians are members of the Orchestra of the Eighteenth Century. The Quartet is a livelier affair, and benefits from the use of a natural horn that sounds positively brassy at climaxes without overpowering the ensemble. Both pieces, while not masterworks, are enjoyable and deserve to be programmed more often.

…douard Du Puy’s origin is not exactly known. Trained in Paris, he moved to Stockholm in 1793 as a violinist, singer and composer. Du Puy composed a Quintet for Bassoon, Two Violins, Viola and Cello in two movements. According to Donna Agrell, the third movement Rondo Allegro was added at an unknown date by Carl Anton Philipp Braun, an oboist in the Royal Orchestra. It is in Braun’s addition that the bassoon twice ascends chromatically to top E flat. The outer movements are challenging, with lots of virtuosic passagework, not all of which Donna Agrell plays with absolute evenness. She does hit both top E flats securely though. The tone and intonation of the Grenser & Wiesner bassoon is a lot less even than its modern counterpart, and Ms. Agrell does an outstanding job tackling this challenging piece.

Donna Agrell acquired her eleven-keyed Grenser & Wiesner bassoon in 1985, on which she has played in over 1500 performances. In order to play the high E flat following Preumayr's practice on his similar Grenser bassoon, Agrell did a lot of research and experimentation on reed-making. This was necessary in order to come up with reeds that allow her to play so high. This CD is therefore the fruit of her years of labour.

The programme notes, written by Agrell in English, German and French, are of the highest quality. It is apparent that only years of intensive research would yield so much insightful information on these rather obscure composers and performers. Bassoonists and bassoon enthusiasts should count themselves fortunate that Ms. Agrell decided to share her knowledge and practical experience gained in her doctoral studies in the production of this album.

There is one other recording of Du Puy’s Quintet in A Minor, recorded on modern bassoon by Christian Davidsson; also on BIS. However, it was recorded in an arrangement for bassoon and orchestra. There are recordings of Berwald’s Septet and Quintet, but none on period instruments. If you want to explore these pieces on period instruments, or if you are interested in hearing an authentic early 19th century bassoon being used to perform repertoire written for it, you should definitely acquire this album.

Wai Kit Leung




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