> Sonatas for Double Bass [CH]: Classical CD Reviews- Nov 2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Sonatas for Double Bass
Franz SCHUBERT (1797-1828)

Sonata in a for Arpeggione and pianoforte, D.821 (1824)
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)

Sonata for double-bass and pianoforte (1949)
František HERTL

Sonata for double-bass and pianoforte
Duncan McTier (double-bass), Kathron Sturrock (pianoforte)
Recorded 18th-19th November 1999, 28th March 2000 (Hertl) at Potton Hall, Suffolk, England
BLACK BOX BBM1007 [57’ 41"]


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I don’t think that, before now, I had ever actually sat down and listened to an entire programme of music for the double-bass, and the occasional demonstration that has come my way has tended to reinforce the common view that the instrument is too clumsy for a solo role except, maybe, a comic one. Well, if all double-bass players (or even just a fair number of them) could play their instrument as well as Duncan McTier I daresay double-bass recitals and CDs would be commonplace.

In this, his third CD for Black Box, he concentrates on sonatas, and two out of three were actually written for his instrument while the Schubert’s "Arpeggione" Sonata, unless anyone were to reconstruct the instrument of that name, is destined always to be heard in some transcription or other. The cello is perhaps most usual, but I’ve heard it on the viola and (transposed) on the clarinet, so why not the double-bass?

Why not indeed, when we get as singingly lyrical a performance as I’ve ever heard. The double-bass does not have the ping of the cello’s upper register, with its modern metal-coated strings, but nor did the all-gut cello of Schubert’s day and I was often reminded of a period instrument. The double-bass sings more gently, but sing it does, and the faster passage-work contains not a hint of clumsiness. With very positive support from Sturrock this is as rewarding performance of the "Arpeggione" as you could hear.

It is an axiom that Hindemith wrote a sonata for every instrument on principle, but this one has a lot going for it. It reminds me of Shostakovich 6 inside-out in that it begins with two very brief, pithy movements, setting the stage for a deeply felt and extended "Molto adagio" which, is actually very varied, containing both warm, chorale-like writing and more dramatic moments. Hindemith exploits interestingly the sonorities to be obtained by having the piano high in its upper register while the double-bass growls away far below. Fascinating.

Information on František Hertl is hard to come by; the notes (by Sturrock) give neither his dates nor that of the Sonata and, while his name crops up on several Internet sites, there is a shortage of hard facts. He was Czech and taught the double-bass at Prague Conservatoire in the mid-years of the 20th Century. As a member of the Czech Nonet he adapted the Dvořák op. 44 Serenade for this organic and he was also a conductor. His Sonata is a well-made piece in a romantic-modern idiom. No specifically Czech characteristics emerge but he certainly knows how to show the instrument to its best advantage and writes for the piano as a fully equal partner. There is not the authority and drive of a real composer but it’s a likeable piece all the same.

If you want to know what the double-bass can do, and maybe even if you think you don’t, you should get this.

Christopher Howell

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