Vivaldi: Concerti per fagotto I
Sergio Azzolini/ L’Aura Soave Cremona (Naïve OP30496)
Considering Vivaldi wrote 39 concertos for the bassoon, more than any instrument other than the violin, Naïve has kept us waiting an awful long time for the first volume devoted to bassoon concertos in its Vivaldi Edition. Four other concertos have appeared on a couple of previous volumes of works for various instruments, three of them played by Sergio Azzolini, who is the featured soloist on this new disc.
Quite why Vivaldi favoured the bassoon so highly is a matter for conjecture, especially when there is no documented evidence to prove the instrument was played at the Ospedale della Pietà in Venice, the institution for which he wrote much of his music. Vivaldi’s interest was possibly piqued through contact with musicians of the northern European courts, which resulted in a glut of concertos written from the 1720s onwards. Some of them were recycled as oboe concertos – perhaps he should be remembered as the ‘Green Priest’ rather than the Red one? – but few of them would be known to the general music lover today.
Azzolini takes these scores by the scruff of the neck and gives them a damn good shaking. The energy with which he attacks them – and ‘attacks’ is an appropriate verb – is astonishing and quite thrilling. His aggressive playing, on a reconstruction of a four-keyed bassoon, rasps and buzzes acrobatically through these scores, displaying both dazzling agility and a remarkable range of tonal colours.
The approach is not exclusively abrasive. Ghosts and misty lagoons are images conjured up in Azzolini’s mind by Vivaldi’s slow movements, according to an interview in the booklet, appropriately enough given the phantasmagorical La notte, RV501 (not included here but already featured in Volume 22). He performs these with lyrical tenderness, often to sparsely scored, plucked continuo accompaniment from the excellent L’Aura Soave Cremona, led from the lute or Baroque guitar by Diego Cantalupi.
The C major Concerto, RV471 would be familiar to anyone who has heard Alfredo Bernardini’s recording of the Oboe Concerto RV450 (reviewed in November 2009) as the latter version was based on the bassoon original, both utilising an aria from his opera Griselda in its first movement.
There is competition on disc in terms of ongoing cycles of the bassoon concertos, but one only has to experience the briefest comparative listen – in this case to the G minor Concerto, RV495 – to appreciate the superiority of Azzolini’s performance. Tamás Benkócs’s metronomic playing, accompanied by Béla Drahos’s single-dynamic, tinkling harpsichord-led ensemble, actually contrives to make this music pedestrian and boring in the series on Naxos. Roberto Giaccaglia, for Tactus, although his bassoon possesses a ripe timbre, is severely hampered by Federico Ferri’s leaden speeds, the presence of a mandolin in Ensemble Respighi’s continuo group offering the only aural interest. Turn to Azzolini and you could be forgiven for thinking that you’re listening to a different concerto altogether, such is the vibrant way with which he zips through the Presto first movement. His wailing opening note of the Largo contains the sort of colours you’d hear in the first bars of The Rite of Spring, while the Allegro finale leaps and dances joyously to a heavily strummed ensemble.
I sincerely hope that Azzolini will be our guide for the rest of the series. With twenty-eight other bassoon concertos to go, Naïve had better get a wriggle on. I’m already impatient for the next volume.
Comparisons: Concerto in G minor RV 495
Tamás Benkócs; Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia / Béla Drahos (Naxos) 8.557556 (2006)
Roberto Giaccaglia; Ensemble Respighi/ Federico Ferri (Tactus) TC672251 (2010)
This review originally appeared in International Record Review.