Peter Whelan & OAE - Michael Gordon: Bassoon Concerto "Observations on Air" - The Guardian
For all that its prime focus is period-instrument performance, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, quite rightly, sees no contradiction in commissioning brand new works, and it was to the American Michael Gordon they turned for a bassoon concerto to set alongside Mozart. Appropriately, Gordon looked back to the Enlightenment for inspiration, and his neat conceit was to draw on an Anglo-American meeting of minds, namely those of scientist-philosophers Joseph Priestley and Benjamin Franklin at London’s Club of Honest Whigs. Priestley’s celebrated treatise on the discovery of oxygen – pace Antoine Lavoisier supporters – gave Gordon his title: Observations on Air.
Set over a pulsing double bass, the bassoon’s first musings were in suitably philosophical vein, with a simple arpeggio figure constantly re-examined. Phrasing was not actually that long-breathed, but delivered with a singing tone by soloist Peter Whelan against lively string-writing and the animated interpolations of wind instruments.
The central movement was a more reflective affair, and Whelan’s remarkable virtuosity came into play in the fast finale, where Gordon combined all the jauntiness of a Bachian badinerie with knotty counterpoint, marrying the centuries with wit and finesse.