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GRAMOPHONE (December / 2017)
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Reviewer: Lindsay Kemp

It’s a nice disc that can make evident something you may have known about but never quite appreciated for yourself. In the case of this latest release from Zefiro, it is the high expertise of the double-reed players at the Dresden court in the late Baroque period that is on display. How telling it is that no less a figure that Quantz seems to have been moved to become one the 18th century’s finest flautists only after being put off his first instrument, the oboe, by the fearsome abilities of the Dresden virtuosos. The players in this assortment of works mainly for two oboes, bassoon and continuo pay fitting tribute to that legacy, but to judge from the music itself there was no shortage of top-rate repertoire either.  

The most impressive pieces – skilfully made with a well-balanced and suave manner – are two ‘quadri’ by Fasch, a composer who has often been praised in these pages. Yet Heinichen’s sonata is another fine work that really allows the bassoon to sing, Vivaldi’s sonata has typical drive and some concerto-like break-outs for oboe I, the sonata by the Dresden cellist Arcangelo Califano has a touch of gawky individuality and Lotti’s Echo does exactly what it says on the tin as if in some bosky opera scene. Two trio sonatas, by Quantz and the ever-reliable Telemann, complete the line-up.  

Zefiro’s own expertise in these pieces is itself of impeccable quality and gladsome spirit. The oboes of Alfredo Bernardini and Paolo Grazzi are excellently matched, creamy and focused in tone and devoid of that honky character people either like or dislike in the instrument’s Baroque version. Their spectral colouring of Vivaldi’s third movement, almost like clarinets, is extraordinary. Alberto Grazzi’s bassoon, too, is a sweet-voiced charmer, smoothly relishing its honeyed moments in the Fasch and Heinichen. The continuo, in various combinations of violone, viola da gamba, bassoon, theorbo and harpsichord, provide a firmly cushioned underlay for these delightful performers to dance over. Nice!

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