- Allegretto – Andante con moto – Vivace
I am very fond of the music of Carl Nielsen, and first came to love it by playing the horn in his magnificent Wind Quintet. Nielsen wrote it for his friends, and expertly characterised each of them with wickedly accurate musical pen portraits. The clarinettist was obviously a complete nut-case! Encouraged by the success of the quintet, the great Danish composer planned to take his idea of musical portraiture much further, with a concerto for each of the five musicians. Sadly, after composing the wonderfully assured Flute Concerto in 1926 for the urbane Holger Gilbert Jesperson, and producing a dark and troubled sound picture of the temperamental clarinettist Aage Oxenvad in 1928, Nielsen died before the remaining three concertos could be achieved. So far, with tonight’s Bassoon Concerto, I am two wind concertos ahead of my hero, and only have the Flute Concerto left to do.
My Bassoon Concerto is not a musical portrait of the dedicatee Meyrick Alexander, though I have admired Meyrick’s superb playing for many years and have worked with him (and the English Serenata) on several CDs and concerts. The first movement starts gently with an exchange between harp and clarinet in 7/8 time. The strings enter, the tempo accelerates and the soloist introduces the main theme, a playful but fairly restrained tune that weaves in and out of its home key (F major) in ever changing 7/8 and 6/8 metres. An oboe offers a new slant on this and the soloist leads us into the first full orchestral tutti, and then offers a rumba-like second subject, which, with development of previous material, gives way to a gritty D minor episode that, in turn, leads to a central lyrical Andante con moto, at the end of which a fairly thorough recapitulation concludes the movement.
There is no cadenza in the traditional first movement slot, but the second movement starts with a short passage for the solo bassoon toying with notes that go to make up the main theme, which is announced by the soloist over muted strings. The melody is folk-like, very English, and harmonically obsessed with ‘false relations’. A middle section seems to evoke mediaeval harmonies and rhythms, and the solo instrument takes on some of the qualities of its venerable forbears: the shawm, bombarde and pommer. The A-B-A form of this movement is completed by a harmonically ingenious coda that ends very quietly.
The finale owes some debt to Nielsen and Sibelius. I was learning Sibelius’s Third Symphony when I composed it, and can detect some influence from that wonderful work. The movement is basically in E minor, though it ends with a flourish in C major. The progress to that conclusion is a fairly swift journey, interrupted by a lyrical episode for solo flute, with support from the harp and lower strings. A longer cadenza follows, and the orchestra hints at the 7/8 rhythm of the first movement, though not its melodic material. The pace hots up, and the minor tonalities give way in an unashamedly theatrical gesture, to a final triumphant major key statement.