The Galant Bassoon

Camille de Joyeuse (in translation)
Classique News (France)

Agile transcriptions

From the inspired pen of Telemann, Johann Sebastian Bach and his son Carl Philip Emanuel, come six sonatas that affirm the elegance and the virtuosity of the bassoon. Melba has taken a gamble in devoting an entire program to this the king of the wood instruments from the early 18th century orchestra. Played with conspicuous ease, this collection recorded by bassoonist Matthew Wilkie in June 2008 is nuanced often with dance- like rhythms (such as those from the rondo of TWV41:e5 in the form of a minuet...). The soloist, for his part, demonstrates great daring too, playing sonata transcriptions not originally intended for bassoon, but for cello or flute in the works of the two Bachs or for viola da gamba in the Telemann pieces.

Of the six works presented, only one was intended for the bassoon (also for the recorder!), coming from an overture of Telemann (TWV41:f1): fluid, acerbic, graceful, lugubrious and elastic all at the same time, the soloist knows how to vary and characterise each tableau according to the composer’s writing. The two other Telemann sonatas—originally for viola da gamba (dating from 1740 and coming from the Essercizii musici)—allow the bassoonist to demonstrate the colour and variety in his playing. The vivacity of the virtuoso Allegro is the complete opposite from the very languorous Soave which follows (TWV41:a6). Let’s acknowledge, too, the suitably lachrymose tone of the Triste which opens the Sonata (TWV41:f1), where gentle sentiment vies with deep and serious bitterness.

It’s difficult to believe that the last sonata bearing the name Carl Philip Emanuel was composed for the flute-playing King Frederick of Russia, the arrogant and bellicose sovereign. Transcribed for bassoon, the Sonata was originally conceived for flute in A minor, but here is transposed to D minor (which is better for the bassoon). Consisting of an ineffably lonely, melancholic solo line, the piece almost resembles a fully accomplished monologue. To the strongly individual nature of the soloist’s part, his two partners respond in understanding dialogue.     

Ex-principal Bassoon in the Chamber Orchestra of Europe (from 1986), today Matthew Wilkie is principal soloist with Sydney Symphony Orchestra. He brings out completely the rich palette of expressive effects of which his surpassing instrument is capable, employing subtle technique in these baroque transcriptions. Above all, the SACD recording brings out details of the tone in a very natural perspective.