American Record Guide
Susan Nigro. Cbn ---Crystal 845— 66 minutes
For as long as I can remember, the name Susan Nigro has been synonymous with the contrabassoon; one cannot be mentioned without the other. Her notoriety comes from having produced five, now six recordings on the instrument. Five of them, including this one, have been made with Crystal Records--a fine match. Crystal Records produces good quality recordings that represent solo music like this very well.
Bellissima is an album of works by Italian composers spanning several centuries. Many of the works come straight from the bassoon solo literature, such as the Vivaldi A-minor Concerto, while others are arranged for the contrabassoon and piano accompaniment—for example, the Albinoni Adagio in G minor.
The Sonata in B-flat by Girolamo Besozzi at the beginning of the program is a pleasant and somewhat serious introduction. Nigro plays with impeccable taste and precision. Rossini’s Cavatina comes next and brings with it a barrel of laughs. Almost everyone knows this melody and will have no trouble appreciating the two-fold musical humor—contrabassoon as a Thieving Magpie. There are two other works by Rossini: Allegro and Introduction and the Theme and Variations from the Quartet No. 6. Rossini was a great lyrical writer and musical humorist; Nigro accentuates that humor while not losing the lyrical quality of the music.
A welcome addition to any recording for an odd instrument like this is a work composed specifically for the instrument. Teresa Procaccini, a composer who lives in Rome, wrote Moments for contrabassoon and piano. It displays the instrument in a more flattering light, not that performing arrangements or bassoon music is necessarily unflattering. More than just the fact that the piece was written for the instrument, it is the legato-style melodies that show off the sonorous side of the instrument that make this piece stand out.
Still, the arrangement of Albinoni’s Adagio is the heart and soul of this recording. Nigro and Lindeblad’s performance is so gorgeous and so musical that I forgot it was a contrabassoon. I was simply captivated by the music. The spirit in this piece is very much like Virgil Fox’s famous recordings of Bach’s ‘Come, Sweet Death; on the Wanamaker Organ: taking command of such a large and cumbersome instrument and making it perform music that haunts the soul is truly an achievement. There seem to be some odd extraneous noises on this track, and the recording quality changes slightly from the other track, but this is one of the most musical performances of the work I have ever heard.
Also on the recording is Otmar Nussio’s Divertimento, a good piece for contrabassoon and piano. It has good character, and Nigro’s phrasing is clear and meaningful. There is an introduction followed by four brief movements. ‘Pantomima’ and ‘Corteggio’ are my favorites—for who among us does not get a thrill from a low B-flat on the contrabassoon at the end of any piece?
The Bassoon Concerto in A minor by Vivaldi works well with contra, but I would prefer to have heard it with string accompaniment, rather than piano. There is absolutely nothing wrong with Lindeblad’s performance, but the sound of the piano is not large enough to properly accompany this instrument, which has such a, well, large sound.
I suspect that all of Susan Nigro’s fans have already snatched up their copies of this recording. In case you have not done it, do it. There is excellent music-making here.