Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

Reviews and occasional notes on classical music

For the past five years or so I've posted reviews of classical music CDs, DVDs and Blu-rays, in various places on the web: Amazon.com, iTunes and other sites. I'll collect those earlier reviews, and add four or five new ones every month.

"Music, both vocall and instrumental, so good, so delectable, so rare, so admirable, so super excellent, that it did even ravish and stupifie all those strangers that never heard the like." - Thomas Coryat, after hearing 3 hours of music at the Scuola di San Rocco in Venice, 1608.

Friday, March 4, 2016

A bassoon in Stockholm


The story behind this new BIS album began in the mid-1980s, when Donna Agrell acquired a beautiful bassoon made in Dresden in 1820. It turned out that the instrument had been used in Sweden in the early part of the 19th century, and Agrell and a group of musician friends came up with this program of music which might have been played in Sweden by this very instrument. In the first and most important work on the disc the bassoon doesn't feature that prominently, though it's still an important part of the texture. The Septet for winds and strings by Franz Berwald is a great work by a great, though under-appreciated, composer. It's played in the most sympathetic and lucid way possible by a group of chamber musicians in tune with the music and with each other.

The final work is also by Berwald, and it's another winner. Written for piano, clarinet, horn and bassoon, there is the same feeling of cohesion that's not without freedom of expression. Fortepianist Ronald Brautigam, who we know so well from his many solo and concertante recordings for BIS, is outstanding, as are all of his colleagues.

In the two Berwald works the bassoon occasionally emerges from its support role, but it's in the middle work, the Quintet for bassoon and strings by Edouard Du Puy, that it has its own time in the sun. This piece has a great, dramatic beginning, but it's clear after a while that this music isn't close to the level of the Berwald works. It's pleasant enough, and I feel like it's being presented to its best advantage by the musicians who are zeroed in on just the right 1820s vibe, but it's definitely thrown into the shade by the nearly Schubert-level music of Berwald.  This shouldn't keep you from acquiring this disc or streaming the music, with its two first-rate works by an early Romantic master, beautifully played.

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