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Primavera: Music for Bassoon and Piano by Bassoonists

Primavera: Music for Bassoon and Piano by Bassoonists, Michael Burns, bassoon, with Ināra Zandmane, piano, © 2009 Mark Masters 8084-MCD. Available from Amazon.com or http://www.forrestsmusic.com

Michael Burns has compiled a superb collection of recent additions to the bassoon repertoire, with the caveat that all composers represented are themselves bassoonists. Beyond capturing the flawless performances of Burns and pianist Ināra Zandmane, the CD is notable in several respects. First of all, it is a recording of previously unrecorded works. In that sense, according to Burns, the works are reborn, presented anew, hence the title Primavera (Ital. spring). A second distinctive feature is that Burns met personally with each composer to discuss the interpretation of their piece, a procedure that lends singular authenticity to this endeavor.

The disc begins with Sonata (1981) by John Steinmetz, a work that has become a staple among academic bassoonists and, according to Burns, has “quite a cult following in the bassoon world.” While these facts may commend the piece to the listener, the post-tonal vocabulary and unconventional stasis of the first movement may be startling for listeners not familiar with the composition. Burns makes an interesting programming decision by placing Steinmetz’s work first on the CD.

The second selection was written by Burns himself, a New Zealander, who fashioned the homage Two Aotearoa Sketches (2004) from solos originally scored for horn and flute. “Moods/Modes” is unified by melodic gestures based on the harmonic series, and “A New Year’s Piece” is a pleasantly inventive blend of classical and jazz elements.    

David Kirby’s “Reverie and Dance” (1989-1990), is a lovely work whose set-theory craft is beautifully concealed in its art. Burns’ interpretation of its lyricism and rhythmic vitality produces an altogether satisfying listening experience. In the work that follows, “Prima Vera” (2000), Ray Pizzi artfully combines poignancy and resolve, blues colorings and jazz rhythms.

The Sonata for Bassoon and Piano [For Irmgard](rev. 1997), by Ronald Klimko, is a large-scale four-movement composition of such difficulty that it is not often performed. It features a wide variety of styles ranging from rhapsody to minimalism to dance. Burns and Zandmane give a compelling performance of this considerable work.

The performances on this CD are superior in quality and valuable in terms of aesthetics, pedagogy, and reception history. Producer, composer, and performer Michael Burns is to be commended for putting together this excellent concept album.

Judith N. Barber

   
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