“My desire is to broaden the perspectives of this instrument and to show its lyrical and vocal qualities, which are so dear to me.”
Winner of the Tchaikovsky competition, Bassoonist Lola Descours performs a rich programme of music transcribed for bassoon and piano, partnered by pianist Paloma Kouider, with whom she has made several of the arrangements heard on the album.
Alexander Scriabin (1871-1915)
1. Étude in B-flat minor, Op.8 No.11*
Arranged by Gregor Piatigorsky
Dmitri Shostakovich (1906-1975)
Six Preludes from 24 Preludes, Op.34
2. Prelude No.6: Allegretto
3. Prelude No.13: Moderato
4. Prelude No.14: Adagio
5. Prelude No.15: Allegretto
6. Prelude No.16: Andantino
7. Prelude No.24: Allegretto
Arranged by Bertrand Hainaut
Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (1844-1908)
8. Captivated By The Rose (The Nightingale), Op.2 No.2*
Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840-1893)
9. Nocturne in D minor, Op.19 No.4
(with original cello cadenza)*
Arranged by Ivan Kostlan
Lera Auerbach (b.1973)
10. Air “I Walk Unseen”
Commissioned by Lola Descours
Mikhail Glinka (1804-1857)
11. Elegy: Don’t tempt me*
Sergei Rachmaninov (1873-1943)
Sonata in G minor for cello and piano, Op.19 *
12. I Lento – Allegro moderato
13. II Allegro scherzando
14. III Andante
15. IV Allegro mosso
Lola Descours, bassoon
Paloma Kouider, piano
*adapted for bassoon and piano by Lola Descours & Paloma Kouider
About the Works
Foibles and anecdotes can sometimes make you smile with their ridiculousness, and other times incite the darkest despair by showing the cruelty and vanity of existence. Russian authors have often pointed out this heart-rending contradiction. In Gogol’s short story The Overcoat, for example, should you mock or pity poor Akaky Akakievich? The protagonist and antihero, at first too stingy to deign to clothe himself properly, despite the bitter cold, finally experiences a ‘radiant vision’ thanks to his new coat that transcends his existence.
This question echoes in some ways the complex characteristics of the bassoon. Although sometimes jokingly referred to as the ‘clown of the orchestra’, the bassoon can also be noble in lyrical passages, and its low register gives it great depth and tragic power.
Often steeped in music, Russian literature also makes references to the bassoon. In Nevsky Prospect, an extract from Gogol’s Petersburg’s Tales, the artist Piskariov discovers that the girl he has fallen madly in love with is a prostitute. He tries to take refuge in a dreamland in order to find his Ideal. In one of his last dreams before succumbing to opium, he meets a strange official sometimes taking the appearance of a bassoon. Another masterpiece of Russian literature, Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, introduces us to a strange character called Koroviev, who sometimes calls himself Fagott, the German name for the bassoon.
It is precisely in the Russian musical repertoire that the bassoon creates passages that are now emblematic of its tonal features: Prokofiev associates it with the grumpy grandfather of Peter and the Wolf, while it opens, in a solo, Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring in a high register, so unheard of at the time that some listeners thought they were listening to a saxophone. So it seemed only natural to turn to Russian repertoire for this recording, which unfolds a melodic frieze exploring many aspects of Russian culture and history. It spans more than two centuries, from Glinka, the “father of Russian music”, to Auerbach, a contemporary composer.
The choice to give pride of place to transcriptions rather than to the original bassoon repertoire is a militant artistic gesture, as the instrument’s repertoire is not quantitatively equal to its richness. These transcriptions certainly make it possible to rediscover well known pieces with other timbres; they also show how much the bassoon can make its own, and even enrich, those pieces not originally intended for it.
In the opening piece, the title ‘Etude’ should not mislead the listener: Scriabin’s Etude Op.8 No.11 is not an exercise for apprentice musicians, but a real concert piece, Andante cantabile. The intense and incandescent melody is given an extra thrill by the bassoon, which has the ability to vibrate, unlike the piano for which this piece was written.
Shostakovich’s work is inseparable from the Stalinist era. The composer, scarred by numerous humiliations and intimidations from Moscow, felt for a long time that his life was at stake with each composition. The 24 Preludes for piano do not belong to the group of pieces that earned him the label of ‘enemy of the people’. The six preludes chosen, however, retain a grating, irreverent quality that is perfectly in keeping with the sarcastic characteristics of the bassoon.
There are many parallels between the voice and the bassoon, so it is not surprising that many of the melodies find a suitable channel in the bassoon.
Rimsky-Korsakov, the youngest of the “Mighty Five” was still very young when he composed the oriental-inflected melody The Nightingale in Love with the Rose.
Some fifteen years after composing his Nocturne from the Six Pieces for Piano, Op.19, Tchaikovsky adapted it himself for cello and orchestra. Although they do not belong to the same family of instruments, the cello is very similar to the bassoon in its low range, lyricism, flexibility and similarities to the human voice. Both serve the melancholic melody of Andante Sentimental wonderfully.
In addition to these transcriptions, a new work has been added to the original bassoon repertoire. Lera Auerbach, a Russian pianist, composer, author and poet now living in the United States, was inspired by Milton’s poem Il Penseroso (which was also set to music by Handel) for I Walk Unseen. A dreamer seeks to recover the memory of a dream, but it proves elusive. His fruitless search leads him to anxiety and then to anger, and the dream world gradually transforms into a poisonous nightmare.
Glinka’s Elegy, composed to a poem by Pushkin’s friend Baratynski, takes us back to the roots of Russian music, as it is an early piece by the man considered to be the first great Russian composer. So it is kind of a dawn, but also a nod to a great musical sunset: Shostakovich quoted it in Symphony No.15, a musical testament in which he made many other references.
Finally, with Rachmaninov, heir to a great romantic tradition, we come to the centrepiece of the programme. Sonata for cello and piano, Op.19, is clearly the longest, but also the most daring in terms of transcription. As a virtuoso pianist, Rachmaninov composed some of the most technically challenging works for his instrument. This is the case with Piano Concerto No.2, composed at the same time as this sonata. The piano element of this sonata is indeed formidable, but the bassoon part also requires great agility to meet the demands of this work, where large melodic pages alternate with rhythmically exceptionally lively passages. The third movement, Andante, contrasts in its serenity and luminosity with the other movements of the sonata, where a romantic frenzy is unleashed, from the passion of the Allegro moderato and the hallucinatory atmosphere of the Allegro scherzando to the mad energy of the final Allegro mosso.
© Mathilde Serraille
English translation © Sarah Canet
Bassoonist Lola Descours performs a rich programme of music transcribed for bassoon and piano. She is partnered in this recital by pianist Paloma Kouider, with whom she has made several of the arrangements heard on the album.
For Lola Descours, winning the prestigious Tchaikovsky competition in 2019 “was a real springboard for my desire to introduce the bassoon as a solo instrument” to a wider audience. A passionate advocate for the bassoon and its often underestimated capacity for nuance and expression, Lola Descours performs repertoire of great variety, including the colourful music of Glinka, lyrical Tchaikovsky, romantic Rachmaninov and Rimsky-Korsakov, powerful Scriabin and sardonic Shostakovich. The programme is brought up to date with a dream-like piece by contemporary Russian composer Lera Auerbach.
All of these works apart from Lera Auberach’s piece are arrangements for bassoon and piano. As Descours puts it: “Transcription was an important part of our work on this album.” This process enabled the duo “to be inspired by the original instrument, to get closer to it, to respect its particularities while offering with this adaptation a new perspective, a new light.”
There are fascinating contrasts to be found in this repertoire, bringing out different facets of the bassoon’s sound, as Descours explains: “Between the Romantic works and the sharper writing of Shostakovich or Lera Auerbach, the technical approach is very different, especially the articulation and the use of vibrato. The contexts behind each composition are also very different: a love crisis for Rachmaninov or a life under Soviet dictatorship for Shostakovich.” In the Shostakovich Preludes heard on the album, “the bassoon has perhaps the role in which we are most accustomed to hearing it, alternately sarcastic, dark or clownish. My desire is to broaden the perspectives of this instrument and to show its lyrical and vocal qualities, which are so dear to me.”
Of her collaboration with Paloma Koulder, Lola Descours says: “Naturally, I wanted to record this album with my school friend Paloma Kouider… We have in common the subtlety of French culture and a love of the deep sonorities, rich in low harmonics, of Russian music.” The pair paid close attention to the different ways their instruments interact in these varied works: “When the two instruments sing in unison or octaves, we try to achieve a fusion of timbres that fulfils great lyrical flights, as often happens in the Rachmaninov Sonata. In some of Shostakovich’s Preludes, the bassoon becomes as percussive as the piano, and then we completely change the sound in the arrangements of melodies, when it is the piano that is inspired by the bassoon’s breath.”
The result is an album that has allowed Lola Descours “to pay homage to all these composers that I have worked with so closely in my life as a musician, while opening the way for the bassoon as a solo instrument.”
Lola Descours, bassoon
Prize-winner of the prestigious Tchaikovsky competition in 2019, Lola Descours has established herself as one of the most talented musicians of her generation.
An accomplished orchestral musician, Lola has been solo bassoonist of the Frankfurt Opera since 2017. Her talent was noticed at an early stage when she joined the Orchestre de Paris at the age of 19. There she played under the direction of Christoph Eschenbach, Paavo Jarvi, Pierre Boulez, Lorin Maazel, Valery Gergiev and Daniel Harding. She is a regular guest in world renowned orchestras such as the Royal Concertgebouworkest in Amsterdam, the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, the London Philharmonic, the Bamberger Symphoniker and the Rotterdams Philharmonisch Orkest with which she has performed on the world greatest stages.
As a soloist, she has recently performed with the Frankfurter Opern Orchester and with the Mariinsky Theatre Orchestra in Russia.
After studies at the Conservatoire of Paris (CNSMDP) with Marc Trenel, Lola won first prize at the International Double Reed Society’s (IDRS) Young competition in 2009 in Birmingham. In 2011, she was laureate of the Crusell competition in Finland, the Lodz Competition in Poland and in 2018 the IDRS Competition in Spain. She also studied with the great bassoon masters Dag Jensen in Germany and Gustavo Nunes in La Escuela Reina Sofia in Madrid. Without forgetting her very first teacher Jean-Francois Angelloz.
Eager to constantly expand her artistic boundaries and her sources of inspiration, she performed at numerous festivals all around the world. In 2018, she founded the Cocteau Trio with clarinetist Renaud Guy-Rousseau (Orchestre National de France) and oboist Ilyes Boufadden (Orchestre de Chambre de Paris).
Passing on to the next generation of musicians is another one of her many facets. She has been a regular coach at the Verbier Festival and with the French Youth Orchestra. She teaches at the Pôle supérieur of Aix-en-Provence – IESM and is invited for masterclasses in Italy, Swiss, Chile, and Colombia.
Characterised by her curiosity, her virtuosity and her energy, Lola wishes actively to introduce her instrument to a much wider audience. She dreams of giving the bassoon the visibility it deserves like his close cousin the cello. She has recently set up 3 series of videos on the bassoon with filmmaker Pierre Dugowson.
For this album, Lola commissioned for the first time a piece by one of today’s most important Russian composer’s Lera Auerbach.
More information and news can be found on www.loladescours.com
Paloma Kouider, piano
The French pianist Paloma Kouider studied with Sergueï Markarov in Paris and Elisso Virssaladze in Florence before joining Avedis Kouyoumdjian’s renowned class at the University of Vienna.
Invited at a very young age to perform in prestigious venues, Paloma nevertheless cultivated her passion for literature in Hypokhâgne-Khâgne at the Lycée Louis-le-Grand in Paris for several years.
The success of the Trio Karénine at the ARD competition in Munich in 2013 marks a turning point in her career. With her faithful partners, she has since been a guest at the most prestigious festivals: la Roque d’Anthéron, the Folles Journées de Nantes and Tokyo, the Arte series “Stars of Tomorrow” in Berlin and the great international stages: Wigmore Hall in London, Konzerthaus of Berlin, Concertgebow of Amsterdam, Frick Collection of New York.
Her intense chamber music practice among the Trio Karénine makes her a sought-after chamber musician, both in concert and on recordings: she regularly shares the stage with cellists Anastasia Kobekina, Aurélien Pascal and Marie-Elisabeth Hecker, violinists Alexandra Soumm and Fanny Robilliard and bassoonist Lola Descours.
Certain musical encounters have particularly marked and oriented her musical career, notably within the Academies of Villecroze or “Musique à Flaine”: the Ysaÿe Quartet, Hatto Beyerle, Menahem Pressler, Alfred Brendel, Ferenc Rados, Jean-Claude Pennetier, Eric Le Sage, Paul Badura-Skoda, as well as Claude Helffer in the field of contemporary music and Stéphane Béchy in the field of early music.
Involved in contemporary creation, Paloma is the dedicatee of the Etude-statue No.2 “La Marianne” by Benoît Menut and receives the prize of the Sommets musicaux de Gstaad for her interpretation of the work “Après l’ineffable” by Benjamin Attahir. With the Trio Karénine, she created works by Benoît Menut, Franck Krawczyk and Raphaël Sévère. She will premiere Benoît Menut’s Triple Concerto with Orchestre Royal de Chambre de Wallonie in March 2022, under the direction of Vahan Mardirossian.
Paloma Kouider has already made more than a dozen recordings, all of which have been unanimously acclaimed by the critics: “The Pastorale is close to the great masters of the modern era (Brendel, Baremboïm, Perrahia…), by its intelligence and its clarity.” (Etienne Moreau, Diapason) “It is splendid in its intelligence, musical sense and personality. A real discovery.” (Gérard Mannoni, Classica)
Awarded “Révélation Classique” by Adami, Paloma is also a laureate of the Fondation Banque Populaire.
Attentive to the most underprivileged, she is, along with Alexandra Soumm and Maria Mosconi, one of the founders of the association “Esperanz’Arts” which organises artistic events for all.
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