Mozart: Bassoon Concerto; Rossini: Bassoon Concerto; Conradin Kreutzer: Fantasie for Bassoon and Orchestra; Bernhard Henrik Crusell: Bassoon Concertino. Karen Geoghegan, bassoon; BBC Philharmonic conducted by Gianandrea Noseda. Chandos. $18.99.
Franz Xaver (Wolfgang) Mozart: Piano Quartet, Op. 1; Violin Sonatas, Opp. 7 and 15; Cello Sonata, Op. 19. Ravinia Trio (Rainer Schmidt, violin; Peter Hörr, cello; Saiko Sasaki, piano) with Hartmut Rohde, viola. Divox. $16.99.
Castelnuovo-Tedesco: Shakespeare Overtures, Volume 2—As You Like It; The Merchant of Venice; Much Ado about Nothing; King John; The Winter’s Tale. West Australian Symphony Orchestra conducted by Andrew Penny. Naxos. $8.99.
Sousa: Music for Wind Band, Volume 8. Royal Artillery Band conducted by Keith Brion. Naxos. $8.99.
Hearing both familiar and unfamiliar music – on the same disc or on a succession of CDs – is a recipe for keeping one’s ears active and one’s musical curiosity alive. At its best, as in Chandos’ new Karen Geoghegan recording of music for bassoon and orchestra, the combination can shed light both on the performers and on the composers. It is common knowledge that the bassoon has a relative paucity of solo concertos (although Vivaldi did write several dozen that deserve to be heard more often). Mozart’s only surviving bassoon concerto (there may have been as many as three others) is at the pinnacle of the field, and Geoghegan plays it stylishly. But just as interesting is a concerto that is probably (but not certainly) by Rossini, which almost (but not quite) features a “Rossini crescendo” and contains operatic elements that certainly fit with the composer’s style. If this is indeed a Rossini work, it was written at a time when he was not believed to have composed anything – between William Tell and the Sins of My Old Age. In any case, its delightful blend of whimsy and pensive (but not deep) lyricism is very well communicated by Geoghegan, who, here as throughout the disc, gets fine support from the BBC Philharmonic under Gianandrea Noseda. Geoghegan has outstanding breath control: it is so good that the few times a listener does hear her draw breath come as surprises. And she certainly gets a workout in the other pieces here, which are as little known as the probably-Rossini concerto and whose composers are scarcely household names. The Fantasie by Conradin Kreutzer (1780-1849) is mostly an attractive set of variations, filled with complex passages and requiring great sensitivity in the bassoon’s upper register. The Concertino by Bernhard Henrik Crusell (1775-1838) – who was a famous clarinetist, but wrote this work for his son-in-law, a noted bassoonist – is lively and filled with good humor, all on the surface and gleaming in its displays. Hearing this combination of works will make a listener wonder just how much other unknown bassoon music is out there – and hope that Geoghegan will continue to explore it.
The Wolfgang Mozart whose complete chamber music with piano is presented on a new Divox CD is not Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart but his second son, Franz Xaver (1791-1844), whose compositions are almost totally unknown – partly because they pale when compared to his father’s and partly because he, like such composers as Hummel and Ries, worked in a style that was not quite of the Classical period but not quite Romantic either. Transitional music this may be, but it is very well constructed and certainly worth at least an occasional hearing. The Piano Quartet was written when F.X. Mozart was 11 years old – not quite as young as his father was when he wrote his early works, but certainly precocious to an amazing degree. The piano part requires considerable virtuosity, and the work as a whole is well balanced and nicely structured. The piano has a less-complex role in the Op. 15 violin sonata, which was apparently written for teaching purposes, and a somewhat broader one in the sonata Op. 7. Both show fine command of the violin, although neither requires tremendous virtuosity on the part of the string player. The most complex work here, which the composer labeled “Grand Sonata,” is for cello and piano. Written in 1819 or 1820, it requires considerable skill from both players and has distinct Beethovenian elements. All the works are very well played on this CD, and if they are scarcely major music, they are interesting both in themselves and in showing where the next generation took the Mozart legacy.
There is fascinating discovery available in 20th-century music as well. The second release in Naxos’ two-volume set of overtures to Shakespeare plays by Mario Castelnuovo-Tedesco is at the same very high level as the first. Castelnuovo-Tedesco wrote these overtures starting in the 1930s (The Merchant of Venice, the earliest on this CD, dates to 1933) and into the 1950s (the final ones, Much Ado about Nothing and As You Like It, date to 1953 and are also on this disc). Shakespeare was a major influence on Castelnuovo-Tedesco: in addition to his 11 overtures, he set 35 sonnets and 33 songs from the plays to music. In the overtures, he does not try to encapsulate the plays but to interpret elements of them in music. Thus, a section called The Forest of Arden is a major part of the As You Like It overture, while the entire overture for The Merchant of Venice is tied to Shylock’s exclamation about his daughter fleeing with a Christian – the famous comment in which he shows himself equally distraught over his daughter and his ducats. The King John overture also relies on something very famous from this less-known play: the patriotic statement about England with which the drama ends, and which clearly inspired Castelnuovo-Tedesco when he created this work in the darkest days of World War II (1941). Occasionally, Castelnuovo-Tedesco’s musical choices are obvious, such as the final Love Duet in the Much Ado about Nothing overture. But more often, they are surprising and musically innovative: Castelnuovo-Tedesco uses quite a big orchestra and creates a wide range of coloristic effects with a large brass section, two harps, and percussion that often includes tubular bells, side drum, glockenspiel and even castanets. The music of Castelnuovo-Tedesco is not especially well known, and these overtures even less so: four of the five on the new CD (all except Much Ado about Nothing) have never been recorded before. Andrew Penny and the West Australian Symphony Orchestra do full justice to the composer’s skillful handling of musical forces, making the discovery of this music a complete pleasure.
The pleasures of John Philip Sousa are much better known and, in popular opinion, much more monochromatic. But the eighth volume in the Naxos Sousa series shows aspects of the composer that most listeners will not have heard before. Only one of the dozen items on this CD is thoroughly familiar: The Washington Post, the 1889 march that made both Sousa and the now-iconic newspaper famous. Several more of these marches get occasional hearings: The High School Cadets (1890), Boy Scouts of America (1916), Jack Tar (1893) and Comrades of the Legion (1920). But other marches here are quite obscure: the very interesting and tightly knit Crusader (1888), The Northern Pines (1931), On the Campus (1920, including words written by Sousa’s daughter), and Pride of Pittsburgh (a grand and complex march incorporating popular tunes of 1901). Nor are these the biggest surprises offered by Keith Brion and the members of the Royal Artillery Band – who, as in all these Sousa CDs, play with great authority and flair. The disc also includes O Warrior Grim, which uses a solo cornet to interpret a popular soprano aria from Sousa’s 1895 operetta, El Capitan, and some extended excerpts from the operetta itself – but not the well-known El Capitan March, which was played on Volume 7. Finally, this CD offers a three-movement suite from 1904 called At the King’s Court, and it will be a revelation to anyone who thinks of Sousa strictly as the March King. Yes, the final movement is a powerful march, but the first is an elegant tribute to British royalty and the second is a remarkably lovely and well-constructed waltz – as danceable and hummable as many Viennese examples. This CD offers a delightful chance to learn more about a composer and his music than most listeners will expect to find out – and to have great listening pleasure while doing so.