David Debolt: Bassoon Music of 20th-Century America. – Brief Article – Review

David Debolt: Bassoon Music of 20th-Century America. – Brief Article – Review – sound recording review

Bruce Gbur

David DeBolt: Bassoon Music of 20th-Century America. Bernard Heiden. Serenade for Bassoon, Violin, Viola, and Cello. Willson Osborne. Rhapsody for Unaccompanied Bassoon. Alvin Etler. Sonata for Bassoon and Piano. Marcel Farago. Variations on a Folia Theme by Corelli for Unaccompanied Bassoon, op. 51. Bernard H. Garfield. Poeme for Bassoon and Piano. David DeBolt, bassoon; Jerry Davidson, piano; Stephanie Sant’ Ambrogio, violin; Katherine DeBolt, viola; Richard Aaron, cello. Liner notes by David DeBolt. 1995. Crystal Records CD347.

The title of David DeBolt’s recording, Bassoon Music of 20th-Century America, should be preceded by the qualifier “Neoclassical,” as this is the unifying concept behind the repertoire selected. He has included the Serenade for bassoon, Violin, Viola, and Cello by Bernhard Heiden; the Rhapsody for Unaccompanied Bassoon by Willson Osborne; Alvin Etler’s Sonata for bassoon and piano; Variations on a Folia Theme by Corelli for Unaccompanied Bassoon, op. 51, by Marcel Farago; and the Poeme for bassoon and piano by Bernard Garfield. The collection is a tribute to the no-nonsense neoclassicism promoted and promulgated by Paul Hindemith. Three of the composers chosen for the project–Heiden, Osborne, and Etler–were in fact students of Hindemith, Heiden in Berlin, the other two at Yale University. Many bassoonists often have an unfortunate tendency to ignore worthwhile repertoire that has not been recorded in favor of works borrowed from other instruments. By selecting his offerings on the basis of their stylistic origins, DeBolt has laudably avoided any such transcriptions.

David DeBolt has enjoyed a successful career as an orchestral musician, formerly serving as principal bassoonist of the Kansas City Philharmonic, the Tulsa Philharmonic, Birmingham (Alabama) Symphony, and the Santa Fe Opera. Since 1982 he has been professor of bassoon at Kent University in Ohio. Assisting DeBolt on this recording are pianist Jerry Davidson (Kent University), violinist Stephanie Sant’ Ambrogio (concertmaster of the San Antonio Symphony Orchestra), freelance violist Katharine Gerson DeBolt, and Richard Aaron (professor of cello at the Cleveland Institute of Music). The quality of their performances is excellent for the most part. David DeBolt plays with a full, rich, reedy sound that maintains its character throughout the range of the instrument. His technical facility is to be admired and is displayed to best advantage in the Etler Sonata and the Farago Corelli Variations. He has some intonation problems in the lower regions of the latter work, this portion of the bassoon’s range being notorious for a tendency to sharpness. DeBolt’s interpretations of the composers’ wishes are straightforward and logical. His performance of the Osborne Rhapsody is especially compelling, and his interpretation of the Heiden Serenade should make bassoonists everywhere wonder why they have not programmed the work themselves.

The collection offers a blend of familiar and less-familiar repertoire. The Etler Sonata is a staple for collegiate and postcollegiate players, while the Osborne Rhapsody is the most often performed work ever written for unaccompanied bassoon. Osborne’s piece is popular enough to have been appropriated and published in a transcription for unaccompanied clarinet. The Heiden Serenade is known to some performers but is not a standard recital offering. This is the first commercial recording of the composition, and as such is particularly welcome. The Corelli Variations, op. 51, by Farago are a virtuosic reexamination of the popular La Folia theme. The composer employs the extreme ranges of the instrument to good effect, and is skillful in his use of variation techniques, but overall the piece suffers in comparison to Osborne’s unaccompanied work. Bernard Garfield, principal bassoonist of the Philadelphia Orchestra, is also an accomplished composer. His Poeme for Bassoon and Piano is a delightful contribution to the instrument’s repertoire, and is recorded here for the first time. The total recording time for this disc, 57 minutes 18 seconds, seems a little short. Either the Paraphrase on the Overture to The Marriage of Figaro for Unaccompanied Bassoon or the Adagio for bassoon and piano by Bernhard Heiden (the composer’s reduction of the third movement of his 1948 Concerto for Chamber Orchestra) would have filled out the disc nicely and met the stylistic criteria for the collection.

The accompanying notes by DeBolt discuss the expansion of the bassoon repertoire in the twentieth century and Hindemith’s influence on neoclassicism in this country, and detail the background of each composer and work recorded. DeBolt includes information on dedicatees, years of composition, and sources of commissions where applicable, but does not give actual premiere dates or personnel. The back cover lists the publisher of each piece, as well as the expected information of movement titles and timings.

The sound quality on this disc is inconsistent. The ensemble works with strings or piano yield a well-balanced, rich sound. The two unaccompanied works have a different aural quality characterized by an echoey reverberation in the silences–not unpleasant, but different enough from the other selections to warrant comment. The CD jacket includes the serial numbers of DeBolt’s bassoon and the piano used, but gives no information as to the recording venue or type of sound equipment employed.

Bruce Gbur Kansas State University

COPYRIGHT 2000 University of Illinois Press

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