Thursday, January 8, 2015

Baroque Bassoonist's Paradise

Today I write from the train to Schipol after spending most of the morning with Peter de Koningh. Back for usual maintenance, my Eichentopf instrument feels like it did when it first arrived in Ottawa nearly three years ago. While I was there I had the chance to 'toot' a number of instruments in PdK's shop including the anonymous 440 instrument used in Sergio Azzolini's most recent recordings, and the new "Rockobaur" instrument at 415. Boy, what a treat.

It was very interesting to hear the variety of timbres between the three instruments, my senses being more acute to their qualities by the fact that they stood side-by-side. Each instrument could play easily chromatically up to high a, with Bb not far out of reach for one who was a little more familiar with the instrument. The anonymous instrument had that incredible 'Ferrari'-like sound we've come to know from Azzolini's Vivaldi recordings; the Rockobaur had a very deep, smooth lower register with an even tone and intonation on easy fingerings (think of a Denner model, except better); and my Eichentopf stood almost exactly in between combining a vibrant sound with facility and depth in the low chromatics.

I was most surprised to find that my reed for the Eichentopf model seemed to worked very well with both the Rockobaur and the anonymous instrument, playing at pitch and with just as much flexibility and subtlety of sound. Interesting though that the characteristics of each instrument still shone through, as if my reed acted solely as the key to unlocking each one.

As a modern bassoonist I have been taught that there are so many variations in reed making, and each can have a profound effect upon the sound and playability of an instrument. Just read this. What is easily forgotten in the modern world is that of all the bassoons out there, most are essentially minor variations on the same prototype. Yes there are differences between makers and models, but the biggest differences in heckle-system instruments between 1950 and 2014 pale in comparison to an HKICW and a Prudent. Reed making has become such a precise science today to meet the demands for technical 'perfection' from the modern instrument that many fail to appreciate how far we've come in terms of equipment. 

Of course, someone proficient on one instrument might have preferences in their reeds depending on their taste (in this case, my 'standard' Eichentopf model) or the demands of a work, but imagine my surprise to find that the same reed functioned easily on three very different models!

P.S. in reading above you might label me a 'de Koningh Artist', if that were such a thing. But c'mon. Try the instruments for yourself.

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