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Bassoon & Friends / Brusky, BCMCC Chamber Players

Bartz / Nielson / Cwik / Brusky / Williams
Release Date: 08/09/2011 
Label:  Msr   Catalog #: 1367   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Jonathan BartzLewis NielsonArthur GottschalkStefan Cwik,   ... 
Conductor:  Paula Brusky
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bcmcc Chamber Players
Number of Discs: 1 
Recorded in: Stereo 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

BASSOON AND FRIENDS Paula Brusky (bsn); BCMCC Ch Players MSR MS1367 (60:32)

BARTZ Concertino. NIELSON What About You? A. GOTTSCHALK American Nights. CWIK 8 Miniatures

These four pieces are the prizewinners of the first Bassoon Chamber Music Composition Read more Competition, founded by the enterprising Paula Brusky, who plays the pieces on this disc. Jonathan Bartz’s Concertino (2007) for bassoon, piano, violin, viola, cello, and piano is a great opener; after some early 20th-century French mood setting, the bassoon enters on a wonderful low note, doubling the cello. It may steal in, but it has an authority and presence—just what is necessary to convince any listener slightly uneasy about a whole CD of bassoon music. And, indeed, these words—authority and presence—are the watchwords for Brusky’s performances of all the works here. Bartz (b.1986) is clearly an assured composer, writing here, I would guess, well within his capabilities. Cast in two movements, the Concertino’s first movement, Très Lento [sic], is an involving, mournful progress that is never resolved. If the booklet notes’ words like “despair” and “scream” read to me as over-the-top descriptions, the music succeeds well enough at a less emotionally intense level. The second of the two movements is an exhilarating romp—Bartz cites Bartók here—in which the bassoon never sounds left behind by the more agile instruments. I would have liked to have heard a bit more risk-taking, a bit more innovation in the writing. I can’t deny it is an attractive, enjoyable piece but, once more in the pages of Fanfare , I yearn for some recognition of the music of the past 75 years. The use of the conclusion of The Rite of Spring for the ending of the Concertino just cheapens it.

Lewis Nielson’s What About You? (2007) for bassoon, violin, and cello starts with more panache but, almost immediately, an “Issue” arises. The booklet states the piece “involves the construction of a language with layers of music and speech.” And, indeed, there is a lot of vocalizing from the players (less so from Brusky, one assumes). It’s almost continuous, ranging from consonants and vowels to phonemes to whole words. My reservation is that I don’t hear the layers of transition implied by the notes. It is three instruments on the one hand and, on the other, three voices articulating fragments of speech. But, heard like that, as a dialectic rather than as an integration, the work is interesting. Remarks such as “the texts are drawn from sources with a social message unmistakable in any language” are just hostages to fortune. I’m afraid that message passed me by. The musical message, about the musicality of “unmusical” sounds of speech, is well made, however.

American Nights for bassoon, violin, and piano by Arthur Gottschalk is the longest work on the disc, three movements running seven to eight minutes each. “Hopper” is cool and “informed by the paintings of Edward Hopper,” but the bassoon doubles the violin almost continuously to the point where it becomes oppressive. The second movement, “Kerouac,” more whimsical and lively, is a relief. Suggested by an (undisclosed) incident in On the Road , the interplay between the three instruments is finely balanced and handled, the bassoon entirely at home (why would one think otherwise?). The last movement, inspired by a poem (again undisclosed) by Peter Joseph, is different again: impassioned solos and discursive tuttis.

Stefan Cwik’s 8 Miniatures for Chamber Ensemble (Hommage à Igor Stravinsky) rings the changes: eight, as you would imagine, little exercises, each embodying a different characteristic of Stravinsky’s chamber music style. Enjoyable enough, but Stravinsky they ain’t. These are real hostages to fortune; Cwik is most successful when he is least like Stravinsky, otherwise he comes over as a pasticheur, doomed to come in second in any comparison, however unintended. The bassoon, flute, violin, and piano combination is attractive and the flute provides the necessary cutting edge in the wind sound palette so far missing. If playing the CD through, I would play this work third as an intermezzo before the Gottschalk.

Paula Brusky shows real commitment to this music and plays with conviction and panache, as do her colleagues, who, while presumably a pickup band, are unfailingly committed to the music. Wen-Lei Gu, violin, and Kay Kim, piano, play on three of the tracks and deserve particular credit for their contribution. The recording is fine, bringing out the rich tones of the bassoon without distorting its presence in the mix.

FANFARE: Jeremy Marchant
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Works on This Recording

Concertino for Bassoon, Piano and Strings by Jonathan Bartz
Conductor:  Paula Brusky
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bcmcc Chamber Players
What About You? by Lewis Nielson
Conductor:  Paula Brusky
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bcmcc Chamber Players
American Nights by Arthur Gottschalk
Conductor:  Paula Brusky
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bcmcc Chamber Players
Miniatures (8) for Chamber Ensemble by Stefan Cwik
Conductor:  Paula Brusky
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Bcmcc Chamber Players
Notes: Subtitled "Hommage a Igor Stravinsky". 

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