Thursday, July 3, 2008

Karen Geoghegan Fulham Palace Recital, June 2008

Karen Geoghegan – CD launch recital 10th June, Fulham Palace.

As promised, more on Karen's recital - I was asked to write a review for the British Double Reed Society magazine and a cut down version of this will appear in the next mag.

A warm summer evening, an unusual venue, an unusual programme and a bassoonist could easily have been a recipe for an empty hall. But when the bassoonist is Karen Geoghegan and the event was the launching of her new CD on Chandos records it was transformed into a very special evening that none of the family, friends and colleagues who came to the idyllic setting of Fulham Palace will forget.

I had followed Karen’s progress since just before the BBC’s Classical Star programme thrust her into the limelight and was keen to support the launching of a CD of bassoon music as this is hardly a daily occurrence. But apart from a table in the foyer with the CD’s on display there was no other indication that this event was to revolve around the CD release. Instead we were given a sheet of paper with some programme notes for a bassoon recital that looked sufficiently taxing that my main concern was whether Karen would make it to the end! However, as soon as she began this concern vanished - if there is one quality that has stood out each time I have heard her play it is her ability to make playing the bassoon sound effortless! And she maintained this right through her recital.

She began with Pierné - Solo de Concert, which was suitably romantic and eloquent. It became apparent immediately that despite Richard Shaw’s excellent and sympathetic accompaniment on the piano that this wooden room with no curtains or soft furnishings of any kind was going to make the boudoir grand piano sound very over-powering as soon as there was anything above mezzo piano to play no matter how subtly he played and if I could have found a blanket to throw over it I would have done. There then followed a movement from Englishman Peter Hope’s Concertino for bassoon and orchestra arranged for bassoon and piano. This is a piece that Graham Salvage recorded with the Royal Ballet Sinfonia in 2001 and this worked as a good contrast to the Pierné, before we returned to France for the Dutilleux - Sarabande et Cortège, one of the many test pieces written for the Paris Conservatoire and one of the most demanding. Again, Karen negotiated the extreme technical demands of this piece admirably and created a wonderful swagger for the Cortège section. The last piece before the interval was the only piece that appears on the CD - the Jacobi - Introduction and Polonaise. Although this is more convincing work when played with orchestra and the fists full of notes for the piano arrangement were a workout for Richard Shaw, it was played with such humour and élan that there were no complaints from a very enthusiastic audience.

Whilst sipping refreshments on the lawn and talking to one of her fellow students it hit me that although Karen plays on a standard Fox 201D, her open throat and relaxed embouchure and liquid vibrato don’t immediately make you thing “ah, a pupil of Mr. X or Y”. She has stamped her individuality on the bassoon in the true UK tradition that Sir Thomas Beecham would be proud of.

After the interval we returned for a lovely rendition of the Telemann - Sonata in F minor followed by Boutry – Interferences – a very strange piece familiar to me from Knut Sonstevold’s BIS recording from the early 80’s but one that has not grown on me through familiarity, despite it being a good performance from Karen. Finally she was joined by fellow Royal Academy students Charlotte Skinner (Violin), Liam Buckley (viola) and Zoe Marshall (cello) for a fabulous performance of the Francois Devienne’s Quartet in C Major – a piece full of effervescent fun. The balance with the strings was wonderful and this was a triumphant end to a very enjoyable recital. Let’s hope Karen gets a Wigmore Hall recital in that magical acoustic sooner rather than later, where more of the double reed fraternity should attend to be amazed!