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Featured Selection: Daniel Smith Performs three Bassoon Concerti

The MHS Review 384 VOL. 11, NO. 6 • 1987

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David M. Greene


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In his article on the instrument in The New Grove, William Waterhouse says, "It is ap­parently in France that the bassoon in joints first appeared." And the joints, no doubt, were jumping. Actually, Mr. Waterhouse is referring to the fact that a new bass wind instrument turned up whose body was made in sections rather than carved, like its predecessors, from a single piece of wood. In 1636 Martin Mersenne called the one-piece in­struments basson and the multi-piece one fagot, because the latter are made of two pieces of wood which are "ltez et fagottez ensemble"· (joined and tied together in bundles). So you can discount the story about the German court musician who, asked where his instrument was, replied "I fagott."

That the bassoon we know was new in the 17th century seems obvious. Whether its novelty accounted for its popularity by cen­tury's end is another mattter. Andrew Green, in his notes for this record sites the recent theory that the curtals and dulcians, and bom­bards that preceded it had already been ac­cepted as solo instruments, thus preparing the way for it. Between the age of Vivaldi ,md that of Christian Bach it also continued to improve. To cite Waterhouse once more, In 1713 Mattheson called the bassoon "haughty"; in 1802, H.C. Koch termed it "the instrument of love," a notion we need not pursue since it takes us beyond our proper bounds.

Smith reminds us that Vivaldi wrote more concerti for the bassoon than for any other single instrument save the violin. The Ryom catalog lists 39. (I started to say "no fewer than 39" until it struck me what a silly piece of rhetoric that is!) The people at ASV, with whom the record originated, have no truck with Ryom, offering the Fanna numbers in­stead. What we have here is RV 470 or P. 43, a work either derived from or contributory to the Oboe Concerti, RV 447 and RV 448. It is a virtuoso piece that allows Mr. Smith to do his stuff, especially in the finale. I have no version in my collection nor is it listed in a recent Schwann, so perhaps this is a "first."

Someday someone will embark on a com­plete recording of the works of Christoph Graupner, beginning with his 113 symphonies· and proceeding to his 1442 cantatas. So far he has been represented mostly by one of his four bassoon concerti (in C minor, of which Smith has recorded a version for Spectrum). Here we have a step forward.

I would buy the record for the J.C. Bach concerto. Bach's E-flat example has a couple of recordings current, but the B-flat has been out of the catalog for 20 years as far as I can tell. (There was a Henker-Ristenpart version on DGG.) It is an adorable piece and shows us once again where Mozart came from.

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