July 31, 2008


Buxtehude: Harpsichord Music, Volume 2 — Arias: More Palatino with 12 Variations; Suite in G minor, Fugue in C major; Courant Zimble with 8 Variations; Canzonetta in G major; Suite in E minor; Canzona in G major; “Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren.” Lars Ulrik Mortensen, harpsichord. Naxos. $8.99.

Hummel: Grand Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra; Weber: Andante e Rondo ungarese; Berwald: Concert Piece; Carl Heinrich Jacobi: Introduction and Polonaise; Elgar: Romance for Bassoon and Orchestra; Gershwin: Summertime (arranged by David Arnold). Karen Geoghegan, bassoon; Orchestra of Opera North conducted by Benjamin Wallfisch. Chandos. $18.99.

      There are some CDs – such as these two - that you buy for the mixture of music, not for one or more specific pieces. The Buxtehude CD is the second Naxos re-release of recordings made by Lars Ulrik Mortensen a decade ago and originally released by Dacapo. It is just as beautifully played as the first volume, and confirms just as strongly what a wonderful composer for the harpsichord Dietrich Buxtehude was – despite the fact that he is not usually associated with that instrument. The two sets of variations on this CD are especially interesting, showing Buxtehude to have been quite at home in an entirely secular environment (More Palatino was a student drinking song) and quite capable of tangling and untangling pretty much any type of melody. The two four-movement suites once again show Buxtehude’s typical structure for music of this type: a more-extended Allemande followed by a shorter Courante, Sarabande and Gigue. And the shorter individual pieces, including one of the chorale Nun lob, mein Seel, den Herren, show the composer in something closer to free-range mode, following no required format but taking the music where it wants to go (and where he wants it to go). It is also interesting here to listen to Buxtehude’s well-constructed forays both into minor keys (the two suites and Courant Zimble variations) and into major ones (especially More Palatino, in a very bright C major).

      Bassoonist Karen Geoghegan’s new Chandos CD is intended as much to profile her as to focus on the music – the works she plays are all over the place in length, approach and musical interest. This CD is determinedly serious, as if Geoghegan and Chandos intend to put to rest forever the bassoon’s reputation as the clown of the orchestra. In truth, if that is their aim, they protest too much. Numerous composers have treated the bassoon very seriously indeed – Vivaldi, for example, wrote three dozen concertos for it – but there would have been nothing wrong with including a humorous vignette or two along with the serious works on display here. What listeners get instead is a variety of largely unfamiliar music, very well played by Geoghegan and with top-notch accompaniment provided by Benjamin Wallfisch and the Orchestra of Opera North. Hummel’s Grand Concerto is the longest and most substantial work on the CD, displaying the composer’s typical galant style and offering a particularly infectious final Rondo. Weber’s Andante e Rondo ungarese, a much shorter piece also written in the early 19th century, and Berwald’s somewhat later Concert Piece, are both tuneful and pleasant, with Weber’s offering more lyricism and Berwald’s presenting some interesting modulations. The Introduction and Polonaise by bassoonist/composer Carl Heinrich Jacobi is more of a virtuoso showpiece, filled with trills, high-register notes and considerable decorative figuration. In contrast, Elgar’s Romance is songful and heartfelt, showing a side of the bassoon rarely seen. The final work on the CD, an arrangement of Gershwin’s iconic song “Summertime” from Porgy and Bess, is the least successful, since the bassoon does not really approximate the human voice here or explore the emotions of this work – a clarinet would have worked better. Despite this rather downbeat ending, though, Geoghegan’s CD shows her to be an intelligent, sensitive player who has fine breath control and can handle a wide range of repertoire for her instrument. If there is a followup CD, it would be nice to hear her enjoying a few touches of the bassoon’s lighter, more comedic side.

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