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Mozart Contemporaries: 18th Century Music for Bassoon
François DEVIENNE (1759-1803)
Duo Concertant Op 3 No 2 in G [7:00]
Thaddäeus Wolfgang Von DÜRNITZ (1756-1807)
Sonata No 1 in B-flat for bassoon and piano [8:32]
Sonata No 5 in G for bassoon and piano [8:19]
Duo Concertant Op 3 No 1 in F [6:58]
Thaddäeus Wolfgang Von DÜRNITZ
Sonata No 6 in C for bassoon and piano [7:17]
Sonata No 3 in G for bassoon and piano [10:13]
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART (1756-1791)
Sonata KV292 in B-flat for bassoon and cello [9:54]
Carmen Mainer Martín (bassoon)
Violeta Mur (cello)
Enrique Escartín Ara (piano)
Rec. Spain 2019

The bassoon is often thought of as a very masculine instrument. I suppose that’s largely because of its low pitch, and also because it appears large and rather unwieldy. The truth is you do not need especially large hands to play the bassoon, and there are also ‘short reach’ models available for youngsters to start on.

All of which explains why no one should be surprised at the number of brilliant female fagottists around at present. The American Kim Walker led the way in recent times, and she has been followed by Rachel Gough and Ursula Leveaux in the UK (and don’t forget Hannah Rankin, who is also a champion professional boxer!), Michaela Spačková in the Czech Republic – the list goes on, and now we can add Spanish-born Carmen Mainer Martín, who plays beautifully on this attractive and unusual disc.

As Martín explains in the accompanying booklet, it was the Mozart Sonata that, unsurprisingly, was the starting point for designing this disc’s programme. Mozart and the other two composers were born in the 1750s; Devienne was a Paris-based woodwind professor, and a performer on bassoon and flute, while Baron Von Dürnitz, who lived in Munich, was an amateur bassoonist and composer. Mozart seems to have known Dürnitz well, while it would be surprising if he and Devienne hadn’t come across each other when Mozart was in Paris, though there’s no record of that.

Of the two lesser composers, Devienne was the more accomplished, and his two Duos Concertants are genuinely elegant pieces, where he demonstrates, in this very restricted medium, the ability to introduce plenty of contrast to keep the interest up, with little excursions to nearby minor keys and so on. Carmen Martín and her partner here, the cellist Violeta Mur, play delightfully, although the balance between bassoon and cello is sometimes not quite ideal. The cello is usually placed below the bassoon in these duets; this means the cello is in a resonant lower and lower-middle part of its range, while the bassoon is in its higher register, where it is expressive but much lighter in tone.

Strange to report, it’s not until track 11 (out of 15) that we have any slow music! All five of the works on the first ten tracks are two-movement jobs, with an opening Allegro followed by a lively Rondo. Dürnitz’s music ambles along pleasantly and with, it has to be said, very few surprises, though the Rondo of Sonata No 5 is great fun, with its chortling main theme raising a smile from me on each return. ‘Specialist’ listeners (mainly bassoonists, I suppose!) will be interested to hear how Dürnitz explores the extreme upper register of the instrument, with high Bs and Cs, which Haydn and Mozart largely left well alone (I can think of only one high B in Mozart, in the first movement of the ‘Prague’ Symphony). I should mention that the Spanish pianist Enrique Escartín Ara accompanies sensitively, and projects his music with character when needed.

There is no doubt, though, that when we come to the final item, the Mozart Sonata for cello and bassoon, the quality of musical invention is raised every bit as much as you might expect. We’re still in the same era, the same world; but Mozart’s musical mind, even in an undemanding little piece like this, is operating on a different plane. The interplay between the two instruments is delightful in the way ideas are passed to and fro, and the thematic material itself is so elegant. I have sometimes heard performances of the piece where the players swap parts for the repeats, but these two have chosen not to do that. Fair enough - I suppose the bassoon is very much the centre of attention on this disc, so remains on the upper part.

Though she plays so well, I could sometimes do with a little more assertiveness from Carmen Mainer Martín; she is playing on a modern rather than an 18th century bassoon, and there are perhaps more tonal colours and more potential dynamic variety available to make the music even more appealing. But I would not want to push that too far, as a far worse error would be to introduce exaggerated contrasts into this classically poised music.

An unusual and intriguing disc from this very talented group, and the recording, apart from the occasional balance issues mentioned above, is of excellent quality.

Gwyn Parry-Jones



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