Hummel & Weber Bassoon Concertos

Author: 
John Warrack

Hummel & Weber Bassoon Concertos

  • Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra
  • Andante e Rondo ungarese
  • Concerto for Bassoon and Orchestra

Weber's Bassoon Concerto is often paired on records with Mozart's, to which, declares the bassoonist and scholar William Waterhouse in his excellent notes, it ranks only second in importance. The field is not large, and to have Hummel's work revived after long neglect is valuable. Even if it cannot approach either Mozart or Weber in quality, it is a most enjoyable example of the early romantic wind concerto and responds with much sensitivity to the sound and character of the instrument, not least to its proud nature and its dignified tone. It sounds hard to play, and Waterhouse points out that it is actually harder than ever nowadays with the addition of so much modern keywork. But the instrument is put amiably through its paces, with a charming Romanza and a perky, quirky Rondo that come from the same world as Weber.
Apart from the superb playing of Klaus Thunemann, the interest of the record also lies in the disinterment of the original version of Weber's Concerto. He wrote it in 1811 (about five years after Hummel), as one of the pieces for which the Munich orchestra were clamouring. However, as Jahns records in his Catalogue, Weber rewrote it for his Berlin publisher in 1822; and in so doing he made changes. Those in the finale are not very important, and in most cases represent a small improvement; the beautiful Adagio is barely altered. But the opening movement has some crucial changes. Weber was never very happy with sonata form, and the splendid Andante and Hungarian Rondo also here recorded is one of his concertos for which, in effect, he never wrote a first movement. The Concerto was given a more substantial and conventional opening in 1822; perhaps, Weber lost his nerve about his original (in both senses) idea of introducing the second subject in the tonic minor before handing it over to the soloist in the major. Especially with a strange linking passage to the portentous drum-taps introducing the bassoon, it gives the concerto a more mysterious mood, one that carries over into the Adagio before being dispelled by the captivating Rondo.
Thunemann has the deft fingers needed, the sense of wry, witty phrasing, and the elegant, lyrical tone which Weber—Mozart notwithstanding—was the first really to hear in the instrument. He gives beautiful performances, and is accompanied in lively fashion by Sir Neville Marriner and the Academy. The recording is close (some key-clacking in Hummel) but very well-balanced, and giving the right sense of concertos that are not all that far removed from chamber music.'

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