Antonio Vivaldi wrote 39 concertos for bassoon and orchestra, two of them partly lost. Their purposes and intended recipients remain largely unknown, but whoever played them first must have been a formidable instrumentalist.
Some of them seem to be late Vivaldi works, and the bassoon parts seem to upset the delicate formal balance of Baroque style with sheer energy. Veteran British early music conductor Nicholas McGegan, leading a small group of Canadian and American string players, adopts quick, oddly jittery tempos in the outer movements, with unusual operatic effects throughout, such as strange gauzy effects in several of the slow movements. When Canadian bassoonist Nadina Mackie Jackson begins to play, the logic is revealed: she and McGegan turn these concertos into pure virtuoso vehicles, and they do so very effectively indeed. McGegan pushes Jackson to the edge, and she responds with accurate, controlled playing that both maintains a consistent tone and identifies the places where the music spills over its own banks. For an example of the latter, hear the finale of the Bassoon Concerto in C minor, RV 480, where the bassoon takes off most unexpectedly from a little flourish in the initial orchestral material. These are little-known virtuoso masterpieces, of a piece with Vivaldi's most fiery operatic arias. There are a few other recordings that do them justice, but this one, happily the first in a series, is at least competitive with any of them.