Peter Whelan - The Proud Bassoon - The Arts Desk

Bassoonists have every right to feel proud. Theirs is an oft-maligned, neglected instrument - presumably down to a dearth of good teachers and the scarcity of beginner bassoons in schools. There are already legions of junior flautists and clarinetists clogging up youth orchestras and wind bands, so those readers with musically inclined offspring should steer them bassoonwards. Geoffrey Burgess's sleeve note traces the instrument's history - the bassoon's prestige had soared in the court of Louis XIV, and Baroque composers were quick to exploit the developing instrument's lyrical upper register. Its unmatched ability to sing is heard to brilliant effect on this superb CD, played by the Dublin-born principal of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, Peter Whelan. There's a delightful Sonata in G by Boismortier; its sublime opening Largo could be a wordless operatic aria. The ensuing Allemanda's bassoon writing is more typical, the rapid octave leaps both athletic and musical. You'll marvel at Whelan's supernatural ability to sustain improbably long phrases with a single breath.

Couperin's brief four-movement suite Les gouts-réunis is a charming set of duets for bassoon and cello; with the bassoon taking the upper part. Especially rewarding is a Sonata in F minor by the much-maligned Telemann. He's still dismissed as an inconsistent composer who wrote far too much, but this little work is a delight. The accompaniment is beautifully judged too; Thomas Dunford's lute adding a touch of lightness in contrast to Philippe Grisvard's veiled continuo. Boismortier's Sonata in E minor is another treat, and the recital closes with an Irish folk song arranged for bassoon and continuo by Matthew Dubourg - who led the violins in the first Dublin performance of Handel's Messiah. An enchanting collection - accompanied with deft brilliance, and nicely recorded too.

The Arts Desk
19 April 2014