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Penguin Guide, January 2009

VIVALDI, A.: Bassoon Concertos (Complete), Vol. 3 8.557556
VIVALDI, A.: Bassoon Concertos (Complete), Vol. 4 8.557829

The excellent Naxos series continues apace and looks set to all but eclipse the competition, apart from Thunemann, who is special. But Tamás Benkócs is a very fine player too, and he gets excellent support form Béla Drahos.

Glyn Pursglove
MusicWeb International, March 2007

Here, offering a further six concertos, is the latest instalment in Naxos’s recording of Vivaldi’s 37 bassoon concertos; 39 if one counts two incomplete specimens. Those who have invested in earlier volumes in the series (see below), all recorded by the same forces, will know to expect the enjoyable, fluent performances that are to be heard here.

The Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia use modern instruments but, under the direction of Béla Drahos they play with a crisp articulation that is, for the most part, stylistically convincing. Benkócs is a very fine bassoonist indeed, both technically extremely accomplished and musically imaginative. The outer movements – all six are in three movements, fast-slow-fast – frequently call for considerable fleetness of finger and certainty of breath control and Benkócs is never found wanting. There is rapid-fire virtuosity when needed and many delightfully dancing passages. In the slow movements Benkócs plays with lyrical expressivity, elegantly poignant and reflective in music which, as so often in the slow movements of Vivaldi’s concertos has a distinctly operatic feel about it.

Every one of these concertos offers things of real interest – Vivaldi’s musical imagination seems unflagging. There’s the way, for example, in which the opening allegro of RV 477 contrasts the tenor and bass registers of the solo instrument; or the dotted rhythms of the bassoon in the largo of RV 499. Or, particularly pleasant, the final allegro of RV 494 which is full of ingenious twists and turns.

It is puzzling that Vivaldi should have written quite so many concertos for the bassoon – the bassoon wasn’t generally a fashionable solo instrument in this period. Perhaps he wrote them for a specific instrumentalist; if so the identity of that musician remains unknown; certainly Vivaldi demonstrates a thorough understanding of the instrument’s possibilities. Whatever the circumstances which prompted the composition of these concertos, they certainly constitute a rewarding body of music and one of the many demonstrations of Vivaldi’s remarkable ability to produce seemingly infinite variations (and there really is variety here) on a basically simple formula.

A graduate of the Franz Liszt Academy of Music in Budapest, Tamás Benkócs is a member of the Budapest Festival Orchestra. I haven’t encountered any other recordings by him outside this Naxos series of the Vivaldi concertos. He is such a fine player that it is to be hoped that he will go onto record more of the bassoon repertoire.

The one reservation – though it is not one that spoils my pleasure in the CDs – that I about this series concerns the rather understated penny-plain continuo, where the concertos would certainly benefit from greater embellishment. Very decent as the contribution of the Nicolaus Esterházy Sinfonia and Béla Drahos is, I would love to hear Benkócs playing these works with one of the best specialist baroque ensembles.

On balance though, this is an eminently worthwhile and enjoyable series, and this latest volume continues the good work begun by its predecessors. The recorded sound is pleasingly clear and well balanced.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, February 2007

Regular readers will recall my enthusiastic reviews of previous discs in this series, and with the release of volume 4 my admiration is undiminished. If you want to hear one of today's great virtuoso soloists, then dash out and buy this stunning disc. Vivaldi took a very serious view of the bassoon in his thirty-nine concertos for the instrument, and there are reminders here of the highly popular The Four Seasons, the stormy atmosphere of the finale to the D minor being one such instance. In the Andante of the F major and again in the opening movement of the C major it is equally interesting to hear how much Vivaldi influenced Haydn. It is music that calls upon the soloist for a demonstration of sheer virtuosity, particularly when you remember the very basic instruments that were available at the time. Following the conventional pattern of the time they all contain a slow movement surrounded by fast music, the six included here frequently requiring tremendous finger agility. Those difficulties are dismissed by Tamas Benkocs, his creamy smoothness in slow movements avoiding the heavy vibrato we usually associate with East European players. Appointed principal bassoon of the famous Budapest Festival Orchestra while still a student, he more recently moved to the same position with the Malaysian Philharmonic Orchestra. He has a first class partnership from the Esterhazy, an orchestra that proves you don't need period instruments to create period authenticity. The recording has the soloist well to the fore, the engineers creating a most pleasing sound.

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