Some instruments have an incredible following
and fan club. Just recently I’ve reviewed the CD ‘Bassoon Power’
an American disc (Crystal Records 842). My own son is a member
of the French horn society. There are recorder orchestras with
their own newsletters for mad-keen players. The piano accordion
has a society and now I realize that the double bass inspires
a similar following.
The CD booklet, which accompanies this disc, proves
the point. It is twenty-four pages long. It has no information
about the music except for the usual track listings and timings
and a brief general introduction. There are some factual performer-biographies
but it is full of exquisite and it must be said, eccentric drawings,
cartoons really, of the players. Players are caught in curious
poses with double basses. There is a lovely one marked ‘The principal
player and his wife’, he with a fur hat and coat and stick, strutting
down the street, his forlorn wife in headscarf and tatty duffle
carrying the bass in his slipstream. Each of the players has a
little sketch of them next to their biography. There is even a
sketch of one of the pieces, the ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’. These
captions are given a Danish legend translated into English and
are mostly utterly bizarre. In truth it all fits in with the aural
experience of the CD.
As can be seen above, most of the repertoire is
more familiarly played on other instruments. For example I never
thought that I would ever hear Monti’s ‘Czardas’ played by double
bass; incidentally it works exceedingly well. The same can be
said of the ‘Meditation’ from Massenet’s ‘Thais’.
Those of you with a sensitive ear may consider
intonation a problem. However, in fairness, the bass has a tone
quality which can sound out of tune especially when straining
in the upper register as
The disc begins badly with an unpromising arrangement
of the ‘Londonderry Air’ for three basses. There is an arrangement
for three basses of the Mozart mentioned above. There is also
a dance by the only modern composer represented, Jorma Panula.
The disc ends with a touch of local colour in Moller’s ‘Aarhus
Tattoo’. In between these ‘pillars’, are the solo items and a
wide variety of music there is too. A two-movement sonata by Henry
Eccles gives an unusual view of the bass as an instrument suitable
for baroque counterpoint. John Field’s Nocturne portrays the double
bass as a romantic instrument that sings. Panula’s folksy ‘Polska’
for three basses was an instrument able to produce modern effects
suitable to a contemporary composer.
Dragonetti was the doyen of the bass in the early
19th Century. It is good that his conservative but
effectively written music is represented including, as it does
a cadenza by Bent Grosen himself.
Also particularly effective is the Bach/Gounod
Ave Maria quite beautifully performed. There is no doubt that
Bent Grosen is a very fine player. The American Gary Karr, who
has had more chance to promote himself, is his only equal. He
has a wide variety of colours in his armoury as well as a virtuoso
technique. For the most part the arrangements are good. At least
they show off the bass player even if the piano accompaniments
are not particularly interesting. Having said that Kitha Ottosen
Grosen is excellent, often witty and with a perfect facility.
She knows when to dominate and when to hold back. Accompanying
the bass is not something most pianists ever have to do. The recording
is well balanced, everything is nicely presented, and the whole
product amiable and great fun.
You might also be interested in a review of Tarantella
Music for double-bass and piano