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Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (1756-1791)

Bassoon Sonata

Peter Whelan (bassoon), Kristian Bezuidenhout (fortepiano)
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Recording details: July 2014
St Monan's Church, East Neuk, Fife, United Kingdom
Produced by Philip Hobbs
Engineered by Philip Hobbs
Release date: October 2015
Total duration: 12 minutes 29 seconds

Cover artwork: Essai sur la musique by Jean-Benjamin de Laborde (1734-1794)

In his Bassoon Sonata (one of only two surviving works he wrote for the instrument) Mozart fully exploits the versatility and expressive range of the instrument. Originally for bassoon and cello, the cello part is here fascinatingly realized here on the fortepiano.

A 24-bit 192 kHz studio master for this album is available from the Linn Records website.

After extensive travels around Europe with his father, the nineteen-year old Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was back home in Salzburg and looking for a job. His father, Leopold Mozart, worked inordinately hard at placing the young composer in a prestigious position in one of Europe’s capitals. In January 1775, they travelled to Munich so that Mozart could supervise the preparations of La finta giardiniera, his new opera buffa commissioned by the Court Theatre, and with which he hoped to win a position on the musical staff of the Elector, Maximilian Joseph III. The opera did not gain Mozart a place at court, however, and he and Leopold left Munich, much disappointed, in early March. Despite this setback, major works written at this time include four symphonies, his first piano concerto and a bassoon concerto—his first for a wind instrument. It was once believed that the surviving Bassoon Concerto was composed for Freiherr Thaddeus von Durnitz, a wealthy nobleman and distinguished amateur bassoonist who lived in Munich, but recent evidence suggests it was intended for one of the players at the Salzburg court. There is evidence that Mozart wrote two other concertos for von Durnitz but, sadly, no trace of them remains; the only other work for the instrument to have survived is this Sonata for bassoon and cello (realised here on the fortepiano).

‘No other composer has ever understood the qualities of individual instruments as did Mozart. When he writes for the bassoon, it is like a sea-god speaking. The most beautiful and elaborate fancies of Debussy in La mer are not more evocative of the spray of Neptune with his flashing trident, and of the tritons sounding their conch-shells.’ Whatever you think of Sacheverell Sitwell’s colourful description of Mozart’s bassoon writing in his biography of the composer, there is no denying that Mozart exploited the versatility and expressive range of the instrument to the full.

The brisk opening movement cheerfully overflows with the type of ornamentation and embellishment that one would expect from a work of the period. In contrast, the lyrical second movement is slow and thoughtful, with long, fluid phrases allowing the bassoon’s unique voice to come eloquently to the fore. The third movement showcases the technical capabilities of the player, as well as the flexibility of the instrument.

Stephen Strugnell © 2015

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