The world premiere recording of works for harp and bassoon by Luigi Concone comes right on time to breathe some much-needed solace into our lives. The timing is perfect, as the release coincides with Christmas festivities, a time inextricably linked for so many of us with the gentleness of the harp and the warm sound of the bassoon thanks to Christmas staples like Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker and beloved holiday-themed soundtracks.
Luigi Concone was a harpist, composer and teacher thought to have been born circa 1800 in Turin, Italy, to a prominent family of musicians and artisans. Very little is known about him and his music, which remained forgotten for almost two centuries. At the time when he composed his works, European audiences were captivated by Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven —basically the prominent figures of the First School of Vienna— and, of course, by great Romantic piano masters like Chopin, Liszt, Schumann, and Brahms. The most famous work written for harp by that time was Mozart’s Concerto for Flute, Harp, and Orchestra in C major. Haydn had devised the sonata form, which later evolved through Beethoven’s innovative work. Concone, therefore, composes at a time when Classicism has bequeathed its gifts to the next generations and Romanticism has taken over revolutionising European music.
In the midst of the Romantic era, in his Six Progressive Sonatas for Harp and Bassoon Op.2 he pays tribute to Classicism through the beauty and sweetness of his melodies, clear structure, and the dialogue between the two instruments. The extremely original combination of harp and bassoon is an indication that he is also a composer of his time, seeking to create interestingly unusual sonorities. In a bold move, he basically uses the harp for its particular sound colour where most of his peers would have preferred the undisputed “king” of the time, the piano. Most importantly, in terms of structure, he introduces each sonata with a prelude, a music form that had not been used to introduce the “main” piece since Bach and his sons and had become, by the 19th century, an independent musical piece (for instance, the famous Chopin Preludes Op.28).
Mavroudes Troullos (bassoon) and Rachel Talitman (harp) decided to set themselves the challenge of recording these works for the first time and take us on a journey of grace and sensitivity. And what a journey it is! It is not easy to convey the wholesomeness and purity of Concone’s music —or any piece with Classical traits for that matter— but Troullos and Talitman are, without a doubt, up to the task.
Troullos is a highly trained and skilled bassoonist who consistently amazes with his mature performances. In these works, he pours his heart and musical sensitivity into every single phrase. He has a hold on the listener’s soul from the very first note, rather singing than playing —the second movement of the ethereal fifth sonata could easily be transcribed into a tenor aria—, his expressive and effortless airflow and warm sound being showcased throughout his performance. Talitman, founder of the independent label Harp & Co, created mainly for the purpose of bringing to light harp repertoire, is an ideal partner for this endeavour, elevating every composition with her crystal sound, expressiveness, and masterful precision. The quality of the recording is impeccable and showcases the technical mastery and musicality of both performers.
Six Progressive Sonatas for Harp and Bassoon Op.2 is an emotional experience akin to a warm embrace and certainly one of the most impressive new releases in a long time.