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Bassoon Steppes (Lola Descours)

Lola Descours (bassoon), Paloma Kouider (piano) (Orchid Classics)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Bassoon Steppes
Rachmaninov: Cello Sonata (arr. bassoon); plus works by Auerbach, Glinka, Scriabin, Shostakovich and Tchaikovsky
Lola Descours (bassoon), Paloma Kouider (piano)
Orchid Classics ORC100190   62:51 mins

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Bassoonists are no stranger to transcriptions, and all but one of the works on this rewarding release from the Tchaikovsky competition winner Lola Descours and pianist Paloma Kouider were originally intended for another instrument or for voice. The exception is I Walk Unseen by the US-based Russian composer Lera Auerbach, a wistfully rhapsodic seven-minute piece that feels like a song without words even when the bassoon is tracing paths no singer would or could follow: veering off pitch at the ends of phrases, cartwheeling up and down the instrument’s range, whispering in trills and flutter-tongued notes.

It fits beautifully into this all-Russian programme, which begins with Scriabin’s yearning Etude in B flat major and ends with Descours and Koiuder’s arrangement of Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata, Kouider clear and agile in the detail and Descours playing with lush-toned fullness. Perhaps the fiery first movement misses the bite of bow on string, and the song melody of Glinka’s Do Not Tempt Me sounds almost too nonchalant without chewy Russian consonants to season it, but the orientalism of Rimsky-Korsakov’s The Nightingale Enslaved by the Rose sounds entirely idiomatic here. Best of all is their selection of six of Shostakovich’s piano preludes: these could have been written for bassoon, so perfectly does the instrument lend itself to the quickfire vamping and staccato melodies, and so succinctly does Descours and Kouider’s playing capture the music’s mixture of pomposity and sincerity, or, in the funereal Prelude No. 14, its ferocity.

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Erica Jeal