Frans Robert Berkhout

Vivaldi: Concerto & Cantata with Bassoon

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Vivaldi composed 39 concertos for bassoon and orchestra, as well as various other chamber-instrumental and vocal pieces involving a bassoon. The question of why he did it has never been answered by actual straightforward evidence, but conductor Pieter Dirksen, who wrote the booklet notes for this release, argues that they may have been commissioned by Bohemia's Count Wenzel von Morzin, who is known to have maintained a fine court orchestra, if not a fine bassoonist specifically. Morzin was the dedicatee of Vivaldi's La Cetra concertos, Op. 8, which included the Four Seasons. Support for Dirksen's idea comes from the similarly programmatic Concerto for flute, bassoon, two violins, and continuo, RV 104, "La Notte," which comes last on the disc. It's as daring a piece of musical representation as the Four Seasons, but is, of course, a much rarer find on disc. Vivaldi does nothing less than depict a night of bad sleep, with the bassoon seeming almost to take on the role of the subconscious at times. As for the rest of the concertos on disc, they show that whoever he or she was (another candidate would be a musician from the ranks of Vivaldi's orchestra of teenage girls at the Ospedale della Pietà), that person's skills were nonpareil. These are some of the most difficult concertos in the repertory, for any instruments. Blistering outer movements full of dramatic gestures corresponding to those of an opera seria soprano in full throat surround hypnotic slow movements, several of which are really gorgeous. Hear the Larghetto of the Concerto for bassoon and orchestra in D minor, RV 481 (track 8). Dutch bassoonist Frans Robert Berkhout is equally adept in these and in the brutal passagework and arpeggios of the outer movements; his playing is a real technical feat, with hairpin turns in the melody line accomplished without extraneous noise or audible sense of strain. Minuses include a rather heavy countertenor treatment in the one vocal work included (the awkward "concerti & cantata" title is at least accurate) and murky, watery sound, the result of recording music intended for crowded aristocratic rooms in an empty church instead. The small historical-instrument ensemble La Suave Melodia has a gentle sound at odds with the turbo-powered Italian groups who have recorded this same repertory; preferences between the two approaches are a matter of taste, but these readings do effectively put the spotlight on a very fine soloist. A strong choice even for a crowded shelf of Vivaldi concertos.

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