Benjamin Kamins

Benjamin Kamins: Bassoon

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Artist: Benjamin Kamins

Artist: Benjamin Kamins
Title: Bassoon

The repertoire of solo music for the bassoon spans an enormous historical and stylistic spectrum from a multitude of baroque sonatas and concerti to unaccompanied avant-garde compositions of our time. The music for bassoon and piano contain a number of works of charm, beauty and virtuosity that are worthy of study and performance. Much of that repertoire has come from France for several logical reasons: a tradition of virtuoso wind playing, a developed pedagogy on the wind instruments due to this tradition, and, since the beginning of the 19th century, a system of musical education that has tended to treat all the instruments with relatively equal importance. Clearly these three criteria form a totality that helped develop a long line of fine French instrumental soloists and the body of repertoire that sustained them. All of the works on this recording are standard pieces from this repertoire. They are particularly appealing to me because they are music of high quality and make excellent use of the bassoon's characteristic strengths: agile virtuosity capable of surprising flexibility and articulation, and a unique singing voice that is at once mellow, but pleasantly nasal and clear. Several of the pieces offered here are part of the Concours de Conservatoire, a series of competition pieces written for the students at the Paris Conservatory. Before 1898 these contest solos were most often written by the resident bassoon professor, but around the turn of the 20th century the practice of commissioning new works from prominent French composers began. Eugene Bourdeau was the professor at the conservatory at that time, and his engaging little showpiece, the Premier Solo from 1894 is the earliest example on this CD. Others on the recording are: Gabriel Pierné's Prélude de Concert from 1933, Henri Dutilleux's Sarabande et Cortège from 1942, Marcel Bitsch's Concertino from 1948, and the Sonatine of Alexandre Tansman from 1952. The only composer not native to France on this collection is Alexandre Tansman. Born in Poland in 1897, he moved to Paris after finishing his schooling and began an association with the leading French composers of the early 20th century. Even though he was invited to join the group of French composers collectively known as Les Six, he declined, citing the need for greater creative and stylistic freedom. He moved to Los Angeles during the Second World War and had a very successful career writing music for films. After the war, he returned to France to find the style of music had left him behind, as the avant-garde of the mid 20th century was strongly in vogue. His rhythmic, driving, jazzy pulse in the fast movements and sustained lyricism in the slow movement of the Sonatine demonstrates a distinctly individual style totally appropriate for solo bassoon. Certainly the greatest of the romantic compositions for bassoon and piano is the sonata op. 168 by Camille Saint-Saëns. Saint-Saëns was born eight years after the death of Beethoven and lived eight years after the premier of Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring. He lived through the entire romantic period of music, and the bassoon sonata was his final work. It would be nice to think this sonata is the apotheosis of the entire romantic period, but that would be quite a stretch. A favorite story of mine tells of Saint-Saëns storming out of the notorious premier of The Rite of Spring incensed at what he considered a misuse of the bassoon in the opening measures exclaimed, "If that is a bassoon, I'm a buffoon." I find this all rather ironic as the sonata's scherzo ends on an e natural a whole step higher than the solo in The Rite of Spring. Since many bassoonists find this to be a misuse of them as well as the bassoon, we can gather Saint-Saëns was either demonstrating the proper use of the highest register of the instrument, or playing a bit of musical one-up-man-ship with Stravinsky. Although the sonata was written in 1921, independently of the concours de conservatoire, the first two movements of the sonata were in the 1924 competition. Henri Dutilleux is one of France's greatest living composers. Even though he now writes in a musical language very distinctly his own, his early works showed much of the influence of Maurice Ravel. The Sarabande et Cortège is a perfect example of this earlier style. It is a lovely work that sounds somewhat modern, but clearly looks back to the old forms and voices through the veil of music history. Although the composer has been known to speak disparagingly of this piece, it is much loved by bassoonists, and I find it to be one of the best received pieces I play on recitals. Gabriel Pierné was a renowned composer, conductor and organist from the late 19th century. He succeeded his teacher, César Franck, as organist at Saint Clotilde Basilica in Paris, wrote music in many genres, as well as conducting the premier of Stravinsky's Firebird. The Prélude de Concert is based on a theme of Henry Purcell and is an attractive little piece that I studied as a teenager with my teacher, Norman Herzberg. I find this work to be an ingenious melding of Purcell's baroque voice with Pierné's Romantic Gallic sensibilities. Marcel Bitsch's demanding Concertino gives credence to his curiously appropriate surname. Written in 1948, the piece starts with a gorgeous slow section followed by a cadenza which leads to the closing allegro. Even though the final allegro is quite challenging to the performer, the real joys in playing this piece are the long sinuous lines of the andante. The expert crafting of this andante is a testament to a composer who truly understood the lyric potential of the bassoon. And finally, the Ravel Piecè en forme de Habanera. I've heard this vocalise from 1907 performed on an amazing array of instruments from tuba to theremin. I have included it on the recording because it's characteristically colorful and sensuous lines clearly serve as an inspiration for the French lyric style of 20th century music. The slow movement of the Tansman, the middle section of the Pierné, the opening of the Bitsch would never have been the same without Ravel and his exotically perfumed writing. I love the Habanera, and also knew it would be the glue that held the remaining selections together. There are many people who helped me to make this recording. They are: Scott Holshouser: great musician, great pianist. You have to be careful with Scott; he can make your bad ideas sound great. Leone Buyse and Larry Rachleff, whose incredible ears, love and care made the production possible. Andy Bradley and Allen Corneau for their technical expertise-they are total pros. Bradley Balliett, whose encouragement, editing assistance, and artistic sensibilities really got the ball off the ground for the final push, Rian and Sean Craypo of Diabolical Genius records for their work, help and belief that got me off my duff to finish this project. And last, and most importantly, to my wife Janet Rarick who was in the booth from the beginning and whose constant love and encouragement made this recording possible. Since entering the world of professional music in 1972, Benjamin Kamins has enjoyed a wide-ranging career as an orchestral musician, chamber player, solo performer, and educator. During his nine years as Associate Principal Bassoon with the Minnesota Orchestra, Mr. Kamins taught at St. Olaf and Macalester Colleges and was a member of the Aurora Wind Quintet. In 1981 he was appointed Principal Bassoon of the Houston Symphony, a position he held until 2003. As a founding member of both the Epicurean Wind Quintet and the Houston Symphony Chamber Players, his life in Houston remained diverse as his artistic presence deepened in the community. Faculty appointments came at the University of Houston and then at Rice University's Shepherd School of Music. The result of this was a personal involvement with fine academic institutions and the communities they serve. Now as a Professor at Rice Universit

1.1 Sarabande Et Cortège
1.2 Sonatine: I. Allegro Con Moto
1.3 Sonatine: II. Largo Cantabile
1.4 Sonatine: III. Molto Vivace
1.5 Sonata Op. 168: I. Allegretto Moderato
1.6 Sonata Op. 168: II. Allegro Scherzando
1.7 Sonata Op. 168: III. Adagio, Allegro Moderato
1.8 Piecè en Forme de Habanera
1.9 Concertino
1.10 Prélude de Concert
1.11 Premier Solo

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