Review: Guy Few, Nadina Mackie Jackson @ The Elora Festival

Duo Affinité
19th July, 2008
St John’s Anglican Church, Elora

If a bassoon and trumpet recital didn’t qualify as my daily dose of bizzarerie, getting stuck behind a 1985 Lincoln limousine weaving down a country road at 65kph certainly did. The dodgy driving meant I had to leg it to the church but thankfully I only missed a few bars of the opening Paganini sonata. According to Guy Few and Nadina Mackie Jackson, he did write a piece specifically for trumpet and bassoon but it was more than a bit rubbish, so they decided to pillage his violin and guitar sonatas for suitable material.

To be truthful, this concert caught my eye purely for its novelty value but it wasn’t too long into the show that my ear was caught by the instruments’ rather complementary sonorities. In the three Paganini sonatas, Few played a corno instead than a regular trumpet. Looking rather like a baby French horn, the corno is made with a conical rather than cylindrical bore, which mellows out the sound to something resembling a euphonium. It is brilliant and agile in the upper register but more difficult in the lower, a weakness exposed in parts of the sonata set.

Beethoven’s Seven Variations On A Theme From The Magic Flute was next on the program and had Few taking a seat at the piano to accompany Jackson. Variation sets based on popular tunes were wildly popular in the salons of early 19th century Europe and can quickly become tedious to modern ears. Beethoven was so good at it, he could have come up with 32 Variations on Last Night’s Dinner Bill if he felt so inclined. Thankfully, in this case, he managed a modicum of restraint and ended the piece after a very pleasant seven transformations.

The piano in St John’s has a tendency to sound quite percussive at full stick and although Jackson played with plenty of volume, there were several places where she simply couldn’t compete.

Suite in G major from Op 37 by Boismortier, originally scored for oboe and bassoon, received a Duo Affinité makeover into a piece for piccolo trumpet and bassoon. The third movement was as quick as lightening and the best suited to the instrumentation. Both players are extremely agile and it was a pleasure to watch them race to the finish.

Bill Douglas,
a Canadian composer now living in Boulder was commissioned to write Partita by a group of 21 bassoonists and is worth every penny. The piece is in three movements and is a brilliant amalgamation of styles most notable for its lack of affection. Music is music for Douglas whether it’s Bach, bepop, raga or blues. Few and Jackson committed wholly to the performance and the reaped the rewards along with the audience. Brilliant.

The Five Poems of Emily Dickinson for trumpet and narrator by Jay Rizetto that followed was less convincing, mostly due to a problem with balance. Mackie used amplification but it wasn’t enough for her voice to be heard over the trumpet. This lack of cohesiveness made the whole thing feel like two unrelated event happening simultaneously; like someone reciting a poem while a trumpeter practices next door.

To end the program, Few pulled out his party trick: playing trumpet and piano at the same time. The piece was a lickity-split Dance by Shostakovich arranged for trumpet, bassoon and piano. Jackson handled the bulk of the melodic material, playing faster than I thought possible for a bassoon, while Few piped with occasional trumpet licks, all the while accompanying on the piano.

This sense of fun is what made the concert entertaining and rendered irrelevant the fact that some of the pieces were not A-grade material. Duo Affinité have great chemistry on stage and take great pleasure in bending the boundary between show and concert. At the end, I was left with the impression that they could have been playing washtub bass and a pair of spoons and the afternoon would still have been a hoot.

Audience members who elected not to beat the traffic were rewarded with with a deliciously bawdy cabaret tune involving a bassoon and some “boom, boom, boom, boom.”

1 comment

  1. Dear Miss Mussel (if I may call you that!)
    Thank you so much for writing this vivid account of our recital! We are so accustomed to playing in other settings with orchestra that it was very helpful to read how our words and music came across in a recital setting. I enjoyed your observations very much. And I hasten to say that Paganini’s double concerto for horn and bassoon is lovely, but that we simply prefer his sweet duos.
    All the best,

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