The 20th century has been examined from multiple angles, but this week’s top album surely marks the first occasion when it has been seen from the perspective of the bassoon. Sometimes viewed as a comical instrument good for nothing but rude remarks, this long, thin creature, containing over eight feet of tubing partly doubled back on itself, is actually astonishingly versatile with a range of colours easily exceeding some paint charts.
It’s especially impressive in the hands and lips of the British bassoon champion Laurence Perkins, the loving curator of Voyage of a Sea-God, a mammoth global journey across time and multiple composing styles ranging from late Victoriana through Prokofiev grotesquerie and lyrical serialism to a musical response to the 1999 solar eclipse by the offbeat David Bedford.
Some works may be trifles, such as Herbert Howells’s minuet of 1945, a thank-you gift for a meal including that wartime rarity a fresh egg. Yet it’s hard to deny the masterwork tag to Panufnik’s deeply expressive Bassoon Concerto, completed in the wake of the 1984 murder of the Polish priest Jerzy Popiełuszko. And even when the works are oddities—how else can you describe the instrumental mulch of Bax’s Threnody and Scherzo or William Schuman’s burbling Quartettino for four bassoons?—the performers dispatch them with such panache that every note grips and fascinates.
Perkins’s partnership with the pianist Michael Hancock is especially joyous and the whole album represents the kind of triumph only possible from a small, imaginative, independent recording company, not the conglomerate beasts.