Published: March 1, 2012

Originally Published By: The American Record Guide

Bassoon & Friends
BARTZ: Concertino; NIELSON: What About You?; GOTTSCHALK: American Nights; CWIK: 8 Miniatures
Paula Brusky; Kay Kim, p; Wen-Lei Gu, v

MSR 1367—61 minutes

Not that the bassoon’s repertoire, original or borrowed, comes close to other wind instruments, but there is a complacency that gets many of us in programming for recitals or concerts. These days, though, there are a number of bassoonists who have begun to hear the call of new music and done something creative, productive, or daring with it. Peter Kolkay’s release (CAG 106, below) with a number of new works fits into this category, as do recent recordings by Kristen Wolf-Jensen (TNC 1524; March/April 2010) of Virko Baley compositions, and a recital also on MSR (1307) by Christin Schillinger (Jan/Feb 2010) with some progressive bassoon and percussion pieces.

Among these extremely gifted and dedicated bassoonists pursuing this noble course is Paula Brusky at St Norbert College in Wisconsin. Not only has she chosen or even commissioned a piece or two to place on her recording, but she has instituted a bassoon chamber music composition competition to get composers to write chamber music that includes the bassoon with a total of three to five performers. This album is a collection of the winning submissions.
Each of the four works contains violin, and three of them piano. Strings, including viola and cello, are scored in a couple of the other works as well. There is something quite delightful about the intimate combination of bassoon and strings in chamber music, and these pieces accentuate some of those wonderful textural and timbral similarities.

25-year old Jonathan Bartz’s Concertino starts with an atmospheric quality and proceeds to a film-like milieu, a genre familiar to a composer who has already entered into the world of film scores and television. The second work makes me want to put on all black, a beret, and stand around exclaiming in a cool, subdued voice, “yeah, man”. There has not been a piece written like this for bassoon, violin, and cello, where the musicians also speak syllables of words in an almost pointillistic poetry-slam style. I think a poetry slam with bassoon should be required for next year’s competition. American Nights continues slightly in the vein of the previous work but goes much further in the arena of conjunct musical lines. Occasionally brainy and occasionally jazzy, this piece grows on the listener with each visit. The program closes with another work by another young composer, Stefan Cwik (age 24). It may be too soon to generalize, but it seems these younger composers are more interested in the lyrical qualities of the bassoon than their predecessors. There is a simplicity, though not unsophisticated, and innocence to the music. This final work is an homage to every (I speak for myself and a selection of friends and colleagues) bassoonist’s favorite composer, Stravinsky. Mr Cwik pulls most directly from Soldier’s Tale in the finale of his 8 Miniatures, but draws more subtly
on his influence in the other miniatures.

Overall, the performers have done well with this music.


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