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Every day we post 10 new Classical CD and DVD reviews. A free weekly summary is available by e-mail. MusicWeb is not a subscription site. To keep it free please purchase discs through our links.

  Classical Editor Rob Barnett    


Portrait Of The Double Bass
TRADITIONAL Londonderry Air;
Wolfgang Amadeus MOZART Serenade from Eine Kleine Nachtmusik
Carl MOLLER Aarhus Tattoo arr. for three double basses
Serge KOUSSEVITSKY (1874-1951) Chanson triste Op.2
Joseph LORENZETTI (1740-1789) Gavotte
Anton RUBINSTEIN (1829-1899) Melody in F
Hans-Christian LUMBYE (1810-1874) arr. Oluf Ring Concert Polka
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912) Meditation from Thais
Giacomo PUCCINI (1858-1924) O mio babbino caro from Gianni Schicchi
Vittorio MONTI (1868-1926) Czardas
Enrico TOSELLI (1883-1926) Serenade Op.6
John FIELD (1782-1837) Nocturne No. 5
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-56) Träumerei
J.S. BACH/GOUNOD Ave Maria
Jorma PANULA (b.1930) Barokki-Polska
DRAGONETTI (1763-1846) Concerto in A minor Movement 2
Henry ECCLES (1675-1735) Sonata in G minor
Carl MOLLER (1823-1893) Aarhus Tattoo
All arrangements by Bent Grosen except where indicated
Bent Grosen (double bass)
Kitha Ottosen Grosen (piano)
Jens Holm and Poul Erik Jorgensen (double basses)
Recorded at the Royal Academy of Music, Aarhus, Denmark, November 2000-April 2002
DANACORD DACOCD 602 [63.38]

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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.

Gary Higginson

 

You might also be interested in a review of Tarantella – Music for double-bass and piano



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