Two questions come up when considering this recording. First: why would I listen to an album of all-Russian chamber music at this time in history and, second, why would I listen to it played on a bassoon? The answer to both is the same: this is a spectacular recording in every way; moving, virtuosic, unpredictable and life-affirming.
Russian bassoonist Lola Descours and French pianist Paloma Kouider present a gorgeous program ranging from short pieces by Scriabin and Rimsky-Korsakov to longer works by Shostakovich and Rachmaninoff. All the works on the album are transcriptions or arrangements, some by the performers themselves, with the exception of a new work, Air “I Walk Unseen,” written for Descours by the Russian-born Lera Auerbach. This work is lovely, tragic and compelling. It has some pitch bending and colour trills, both used extremely effectively. But all the music on this album is so brilliantly played that you won’t believe it wasn’t written for the bassoon.
This is a testament to Descours’ virtuosity: she’s a product of the best European training available and she’s the first bassoonist ever to win the Tchaikovsky Competition. Her sound is effortlessly fluid and expressive in all registers, her vibrato and phrasing always tasteful and heartfelt. And Kouider’s playing moves from crystalline thrills in the Rachmaninoff Cello Sonata to exquisite delicacy in Glinka and Rimsky-Korsakov. The world is a troubled place right now; do something nice for yourself and listen to this album. It will make your day.