Works For Bassoon / Judith Leclair

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WORKS FOR BASSOON Judith LeClair (bn); Jonathan Feldman (pn); Gretchen Van Hoesen (hp 1 ) AVIE 2181 (58:31)

BOUTRY Interférence I. 1 ANDRÉS Chants d’arrière-saison. SAINT-SAËNS Bassoon Sonata. MILDE Andante and Rondo. Polonaise. GLIÈRE Humoresque

She has been called “America’s leading lady of the bassoon.” Judith LeClair, as many will know, has been the principal bassoonist of the New York Philharmonic since 1981. She has taught a whole generation of bassoonists at Juilliard, and is an eminent chamber musician, recitalist, and soloist, appearing often with her own orchestra and with others around the world. This is LeClair’s second solo recital disc. The very desirable first recital, on Cala, came 12 years ago, and is still available as part of the label’s “New York Legends” series. This one focuses almost entirely on French works, including a mix of familiar and little-known. It begins with a piece that has become a favorite of many bassoonists with the chops to tackle it: Roger Boutry’s darkly manic Interférence I . Two other recent releases have included it. I am particularly taken with Akio Koyama’s exhilarating rendition on New Classical Adventure, reviewed in Fanfare 33:5. LeClair is less driven, and consequently a shade less exciting, but she makes more of the work’s contrasting moods. Jazzy and powerful, this is a perfect program opener.

It is not the electricity of the Boutry, however, that creates the disc’s strongest impression, but Bernard Andrès’ much calmer Songs of a Season Past , a set of seven mélodies for bassoon and harp previously unknown to me. As the title suggests, the work is nostalgic and gentle; the seven movements create, with the harp accompaniment, a feeling of Arcadian antiquity. Charming and understated, the work provides a perfect showcase for LeClair’s clear, easy playing in the high register and lovely song-like delivery. Her perfect-in-every-way partner in this work is Gretchen Van Hoesen, principal harpist of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.

The Saint-Saëns is graceful and attractive, as well. The product of the French master’s last year, it shows his energy and melodic gifts undimmed by age. LeClair revels in the idiomatic writing. (What else would one expect of the composer who supposedly stormed out of the premiere of the Rite of Spring because of Stravinsky’s misuse of the bassoon?) She spins a golden thread of tone in the Allegro moderato and dances lightly through the Allegro scherzando and the balletic finale. Bassoonist/composer Ludwig Milde’s appeal is less sure, with a salon-like style that is often barely on the right side of cloying, but these two works serve LeClair well. Showing sensitive restraint in the Andante and Rondo and using the Polonaise as a pyrotechnic display of fingerwork, she makes the works more effective than they might be in lesser hands.

The recital ends with the only non-French work: the Glière Humoresque , a perfect encore. The title notwithstanding, it is a wistful dialogue between soloist and accompanist. The latter, Jonathan Feldman, is LeClair’s husband and chair of the Juilliard collaborative piano department. Here and elsewhere, he shows why he is in demand as a recital partner and chamber player. LeClair plays throughout with evenness of sound in all registers, spectacular technical facility, and poetic sensitivity. Her distinctive creaminess of tone, however, is not as evident in this recording as in the previous recital. Miked too closely, the rather boxy recording also occasionally picks up the distracting hiss of air escaping on high notes. This is the only fly, however, in an otherwise delightful ointment. Bassoon fanciers will want to snap up this recording, and hope that the next one doesn’t take so long to appear.

FANFARE: Ronald E. Grames

Product Description:

  • Catalog Number: AV2181

  • UPC: 822252218121

  • Label: Avie

  • Composer: Agustín Barrios Mangoré, Bernard Andrès, Camille Saint-Saëns, Joaquin Turina, Ludwig Milde, Roger Boutry

  • Performer: Gretchen Van Hoesen, Jonathan Feldman, Judith LeClair