Music from America & Abroad for Oboe, Bassoon & Piano / John Dee, oboe; Timothy McGovern, bassoon; Cara Chowning, piano


This recording of 20th-century music from Italy, the British Isles, Canada, and Germany uses oboe, bassoon, and piano in various combinations. Everything is tonal, lyrical, imaginative, and truly beautiful.

After spending many years holding principal positions in orchestras in the United States and Canada, oboist John Dee and bassoonist Timothy McGovern now combine careers as solo musicians with positions on the faculty of the University of Illinois in Champaign-Urbana. During the past decade audiences in Illinois have had the treat of hearing them play together often, and now, by way of this recording, their superb artistry as a double-reed "team" can be appreciated by people everywhere. Their work with pianist Cara Chowning, a Chicago-based former colleague from the University of Illinois, makes for exceptional chamber music.

The recording opens with the very bright and cheery Toccatino Precipitando (1999) written by the British composer Graham Waterhouse for oboe, bassoon, and piano. It is followed by Scotsman Alan Richardson's "French Suite for Oboe and Piano" (1946), a collection of neoclassical picturesque and playful character pieces that Dee and Chowning play with humor, serious expression, and true beauty.

This seems to be the first recording of this work, a piece given to John Dee by John De Lancie, the former principal oboist of the Philadelphia Orchestra. De Lancie must have know that these pieces would fit Dee's musical personality exactly. I particularly love the simple and direct Causerie, which Dee phrases exactly as one would speak about congenial matters to a good friend. This is also the first recording of the sultry Last Dance for Bassoon and Piano that Nikola Resanovic, a British composer of Serbian heritage, wrote in memory of his teacher Lynette Diers Cohen. McGovern gave the first performance of it in 2004.

Bill Douglas, who was born in Canada in 1944, writes very tonal, clean, and evocative music. Dee gives these simple and picturesque pieces written between 1971 and 1995 (with titles like “The Hills of Glencar,” and “Sweet Rain”) eloquent and poetic readings. Hagood Hardy's music for Anne of Green Gables comes instantly to mind. The simple Douglas pieces contrast beautifully with the more complex music of the German composer Michael Stöckigt. His Sonatine for Bassoon and Piano (1976) is a short-yet-substantial work demanding real virtuosity and rhythmic buoyancy from McGovern, which he supplies in spades, hearts, clubs, and diamonds.

The Concerto in F, written in 1953 in a 19th-century style by Umberto Bertoni, is a standard virtuoso concert piece for bassoon and piano. I don't find the music as interesting as the other works here, but the playing is spectacular.

On either side of the Bertoni are two wonderful works by the British composer Michael Head. The "Elegiac Dance," the first of Head's Two Pieces for Oboe and Piano (1954) reminds me a bit of the Schumann Romances, but with rich mid-20th-century harmonies; and the chipper Presto that follows has textures and harmonies that remind me of Darius Milhaud. Head's Trio for Oboe, Bassoon, and Piano (1977) is full of bright British musical banter, and musical atmosphere. It would be a perfect concert companion to the often-played Poulenc, which has been happily omitted from this program to make room for these more obscure, but equally delightful, works.

GRAHAM WATERHOUSE: Toccatina Precipitando, Op. 24 (1999)