Let us deal with the positive things about this CD
first of all. It is a typical Danacord production in so far as it is
well packaged, nice to look at and hold, excellent programme notes and
a good 65 minutes of playing time. Also typical is their courage in
presenting an entire CD of works that are unrecorded and practically
unknown, except to specialists, all composed for double bass and piano.
And here we locate the problem; over an hour of double bass sound is
difficult to handle. Bassists would argue, of course, that it is too
much of an excellent thing. I would suggest that the problem is that
all the pieces seem to blend into one. Somehow, in spite of the obviously
superb and highly competent playing by both the soloists this CD leaves
me cold. In spite of the fact that it is all late romantic music, full
of fairly intense passages and complex string figurations it is all
actually rather lacklustre. Some of the music seems, to this listener,
to be somewhat banal. But that perhaps is the problem with an instrument
that is little composed for – performers will clutch at straws. The
sifting process does not take place as it would with works composed
for more popular instruments.
There is, of course, a strategy for listening to a
CD like this – that is quite simply to pick out one piece, listen to
it and then move onto something that is not composed for double bass
Two of the three composers represented on this CD are
unknown quantities - at least to me. However, I feel we ought to be
on safer ground with Louis Glass. At least he is being rediscovered
both in Denmark and much further afield. Here the programme notes are
excellent – just the way I love them. In fact it took me as long to
read and digest 'em as it did to listen to the Nocturne Op 33.
Amongst other things the notes give an extensive editorial résumé
of the historical provenance of the score. But even here it does not
seem to be Glass at his best. It is an acceptable piece, which probably
deserves an occasional airing. However at eight minutes long it does
seem to outstay its welcome. It is finely played with lots of expression
and well-controlled dynamics. The central section is possibly the most
original and most exciting music on this CD. Yet somehow it all seems
contrived. If this were the one and only piece of Glass I had heard,
I would not be moved to explore much further.
Franz Xaver Victor Neruda was born in Brno in
1843. He was a Bohemian cellist who initially earned his living largely
by playing music with his father and two sisters. He was a member of
the Royal Orchestra at Copenhagen and latterly the director of the musical
society in that city. He finally moved to Stockholm to pursue a similar
role. He seems to have written a fair amount of music, including a cello
concerto, some string quartets and many piano pieces. He is credited
with many works for the cello.
The present piece, the Berceuse Slav was originally
composed for three cellos. It is another of these totally average pieces
which must have been heard in salons the length and breadth of Europe
at that time. Nothing fundamentally wrong with it, except that it is
hardly a lullaby as the title implies.
The main bulk of this CD is devoted to seven works
by the Copenhagen composer Ludwig Hegner. The programme notes
devote some two thousand words to a description of this gentleman’s
life and works. His main claim to fame, however, is that he was the
first double bass teacher in Denmark. A brief perusal of the New Grove
found only one reference to him and no specific article. There is nothing
that I can find on the Internet; only a listing in Danacord’s catalogue!
So the programme notes are the only real source of information we have
on this composer.
In a nutshell, then, he was born in 1851 in the capital
city and spent his career in various forms of music making – as a performer,
a teacher and a composer. He played the piano and the violin, but it
was to be with the double bass that he marked out his career.
The music by Hegner presented on this CD is difficult
to classify. There are seven works with a total of nine pieces. As I
remarked earlier, they are of a sameness. I cannot help feeling that
Hegner churned out music to fit his own and his pupils' requirements.
It is like so much music that has been written over the centuries -
fundamentally sound but not inspired. The balance of parts and formal
principles seems to me to be accomplished. It is just that each and
every piece presented here lacks pizzazz and, frankly, interest.
The playing is excellent; revealing possibilities in
double bass technique that I would hardly have credited. One almost
regards double bass solo music with the same sense of humour as tuba
music; it has the potential for being comical. There is nothing of the
ridiculous here, though. It certainly puts the double bass on the map
as an expressive and even warmly romantic instrument.
As a specialist CD it will appeal to a very limited
range of listeners. For this I imagine Danacord do not apologise. Apart
from the sameness of all these pieces and their prevailing salon feel
this is a good example of niche marketing.