Repertoire and Instruments
The grouping of one wind instrument with a string trio or quartet is a common one in the classical era, the best-known compositions being by W.A. Mozart for flute, oboe or clarinet and strings. «island's» particular blend of instruments produces a unique and sonorous texture through the substitution of the bassoon’s deeper voice for the more common treble instrument. Together with string trio of violin, viola and cello, this combination results in a rich predominance of darker tenor colours.
Whilst Mozart himself sadly never wrote for this instrumentation, there are many compositions by minor masters such as Devienne, Danzi, Stamitz, Reicha and Krommer. Their music has a uniquely special charm. It is often highly virtuosic, with demanding bravura passage work and theatrical and ostentatious interplay between the instruments, especially bassoon and violin. The instruments compete as much in the expressive power of their melodic material as in virtuosity.
There are movements of sincere cantabile tenderness, often poignant and soulful, as well as much humour and moments of true drama and suspense. This enchanting music has on the whole been neglected since the nineteenth century, when it was very popular amongst audiences and players alike. It is seldom performed and very few recordings exist, island's recordings of quartets by Devienne, Danzi and Krommer being the first made on period instruments. However in some ways this is not surprising. For example, the bassoon for which it was composed was a five or six-keyed instrument which hardly resembles in tone or technique the intricate machinery that is today's Heckel bassoon. Each chromatic note, for which there is a specific key on the modern bassoon, has to be fingered by means of complicated cross-fingering patterns, each having its own specific tone-colour and attack.