Let’s face it, to some, the bassoon doesn’t always come across as the most serious of instruments in an orchestra. It doesn’t have the fame of the ensemble’s most abundant instrument, the violin; it lacks the allure of its stringed counterpart, the cello; nor does the bassoon have the prominence of its older sister the oboe (who gets to play “concert A” at the beginning of every concert in order to tune the orchestra). Even CapRadio’s Beth Ruyak, host of Insight said, “I’ve always thought there was a bit of a comic quality to the music of the bassoon.” Well, hang on to your laughter, my friends, because the bassoon means business.
In a recent Sound Advice segment on Insight, I played a clip of the great German Bassoonist Klaus Thunemann performing one of Vivaldi’s Concertos for the instrument to which Ruyak replied, “It’s fun to listen to that sound...I suddenly have so much respect for the way he’s playing it.”
What most people may not understand about playing the bassoon, is that it is a very challenging instrument to learn. Therefore you will not see as many bassoonists as those who play other instruments. When someone like Thunemann masters the bassoon, he is no doubt carving out a space for himself among the great players. And Thunemann may very well be at the top of that list.
Thunemann can make the bassoon sing. He brings a virtuosic agility and vivacity to the instrument, especially in those Vivaldi selections. Vivaldi wrote more concertos for the bassoon than any other instrument save the violin; 39 bassoon concertos in all. Klaus Thunemann has played all of them and recorded most of them all the while receiving favorable reviews. Nicholas Anderson of Gramophone Magazine said, “Thunemann instills life into every bar of his interpretation, performing dazzling feats of athleticism apparently with the utmost of ease.” A feat he’s also accomplished with the concertos of Mozart, Weber and more.
Thunemann was born in Magdeburg, Germany in 1937 and began playing the piano at a young age. Thunemann first picked up the bassoon at 18 years-old. Six years later, after playing his first note on the double-reed instrument, Thunemann joined the Northwest German Radio Symphony Orchestra. By the next year, at 25, he was their principal bassoonist.
Thunemann served in that capacity for 16 years until he would forgo orchestra work in favor of a teaching position. Thunemann continued to perform as a soloist and with chamber groups during his professorial tenure. He retired from teaching in 2005. A year later, in recognition of his work on the international stage and in the classroom, the acclaimed bassoonist was awarded the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany. The award is "the highest tribute the Federal Republic of Germany can pay to individuals for services to the nation." Thunemann's discography comes in at 30-plus recordings.
So, the next time you hear the bassoon played (all week long on Morning Classical; 2 selections a day between 7 and 9 a.m.), listen for Thunemann’s skillful dexterity and his unmatched phrasing. Let him show you that while there is, without question, a bit of fun that can be had in listening to the bassoon; bassoon playing is a very serious business.
Listen for the following selections from this week's Artist of the Week Klaus Thunemann on Morning Classical between 7 and 9 a.m. Monday through Friday.
Antonio Vivaldi: Bassoon Concerto No. 30
Ferdinand David: Basssoon Concerto
W. A. Mozart: Bassoon Concerto, K 191
Vivaldi: Bassoon Concerto RV 483
Conradin Kreutzer: Variations
Georg Philip Telemann: Concerto for Recorder and Bassoon
Vivaldi: Bassoon Concerto No. 35
Carl Maria von Weber: Andante and Hungarian Rondo
Franz Danzi: Concerto for Clarinet, Bassoon, and Orchestra
Weber: Bassoon Concerto, Op. 75