March/April  2009


ORIGINAL TUNES FOR THE BIG BASSOON - Susan Nigro (cbn); Mark Lindblad (pn) * CRYSTAL CD847 (63:06)

SUSAN NIGRO, CONTRABASSOON Susan Nigro (cbn); Mark Lindblad (pn) * CRYSTAL CD845 (66:13)

KURRASCH A Day at the Park.1  PROTO Little Suite for the Big bassoonELAINE FINE More Greek Myyths.1  Harlequin Sonata.1  BJORLING Night Shadoes.  DreamscapesSTYBR ContraBassooNova.1  KOUKL Potato polca.1

    I am an unabashed lover of all low tones.  Organ pedals and a sonorously disciplined double bass section can drive me to near ecstasy.  Ditto the contrabassoon.  I love the feeling of both tone and air moving toward me with equal power.  Brahms occasionally wrote eloquently for that instrument in his orchestrations, as did Beethovan. The finale of Brahms's First Symphony employs a deeply moving contrabassoon line in its introduction that is seldom heard on recordings, but which is often writ large during live performances.  And then there is the contrabassoon opening of Ravel's Piano Concerto for the Left Hand, where the tones seem to be emanating from the very bowels of the earth.

    Susan Nigro is a Chicago-born contrabassoonist who has proven to be, over the years, its most eloquent advocate.  Many moons ago, long before Fanfare was on the internet, I reviewed GM release (2069) by her titled "The Bass Nightingale," and found it most fascinating.   The repertoire was by Erwin Schulhof, Burrill Philips, Carl Phillip Stamitz, and Gunther Schuller.  Here she is continuing her mission to make the contrabassoon a legitimate solo  instrument.  Toward that end, she has commissioned numerous pieces from our current crop of highly gifted composers.  This Crystal release bears the latest fruits of that endeavor, offering a fine stylistic cross section that demonstrates both Nigro's virtuosity and her affective compass.

    Some of this music is disarminjglyy amiable (Ann Marie Kurrasch's A Day at the Park); some of it is variously abstract and jazzy (Frank Proto's Little Suite for the Big Bassoon and Joel Bjorling's Dreamscapes); and some of it is mere fun  (Giorgio Koukl's Potato polca).

    The release demonstrates both Nigro's virtuosity and the powers of invention of our current crop of composers.  The bottom line, however, is that she can make her instrument sing and articulate like a nightingale, and here her art has been captured in fine sound, occasionally aided by a splendid pianist, Mark Lindeblad, who is himself also a bassoonist.  William Zagorski.