Like the tuba and the double bass, the bassoon could be thought of as one of the Cinderellas of music. Instruments such as these have been the butt of innumerable jokes but, played by master musicians, they are capable of an astonishing range of emotion and tone colouring. Years ago, I had the good fortune to attend a recital by Ludwig Streicher that near-legendary master of the double bass. His mastery of that intractable instrument was revelatory.
And like the tuba and the double bass, the repertoire available to the bassoonist is sadly thin. Of the six sonatas on this CD, only one was originally for the bassoon. All the others are transcriptions of sonatas composed for other instruments.
In the opening cantabile in Telemann’s Sonata in E minor, the bassoon produces a flawless ribbon of sound—and in the following allegro, Matthew Wilkie is impressively agile on the instrument and magically adept in tone colouring, although recorded sound has a shade too much echo. In the recitative-arioso, the trio’s corporate tone is everything one could have wished for … Fans of the flute repertoire could well experience as sense of déjà vu on listening to an arrangement for bassoon of Bach’s much loved Sonata in B minor for flute and harpsichord. How beautifully the first movement unfolds. The concluding presto has been the graveyard of more than a few musical reputations. It is unforgivingly difficult music that requires an iron nerve and a cool head to bring off successfully. It’s triumphantly achieved here. Bravo!
In the opening triste movement of Telemann’s Sonata in F minor, the bassoon seduces the ear with gorgeously dark-hued tone. This is the only sonata on this disc that was originally conceived as a work for bassoon.
In C.P.E. Bach’s fearsomely exposed Sonata in D minor, Wilkie emerges at the end of the ordeal with honour not only intact but enhanced, especially because being unaccompanied, the slightest flaw can become embarrassingly apparent. I particularly liked the skill with which the teasing, insouciant nature of the second movement is conveyed—and there is musicality of the highest order in the concluding allegro.
Wilkie has the incomparable advantage of ensemble partners of exceptional merit. Neal Peres Da Costa at the harpsichord and Kees Boersma on double bass are masters of their art. They and Wilkie bring the stamp of high distinction to this compilation.