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Classical Editor: Rob Barnett

CD REVIEW



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The British Double Bass 
Gordon JACOB (1895-1984)
A Little Concerto for Double Bass and Orchestra (1973) [14:26];
Elizabeth MACONCHY (1907-1994)
Music for Double Bass and Piano (1970) [7:06];
Thomas PITFIELD (1903-1999)
Sonatina (1974) [8:25];
Lennox BERKELEY (1903-1989)
Introduction and Allegro (1971) [7:12];
David ELLIS (b. 1933)
Sonata for Unaccompanied Double Bass op.42 (1978) [6:07];
John WALTON (b. 1947)
A Deep Song (1969) [3:52];
Alan BUSH (1900-1995)
Meditation and Scherzo op. 93 no. 1, 2 (1964, 1978) [5:23; 6:07];
John McCABE (b. 1939)
Pueblo for Solo Double Bass (1986) [11:00];
Elisabeth LUTYENS (1906-1983)
The Tides of Time op. 75 (1969) [7:11]
Alfred REYNOLDS (1884-1969)
Hornpipe (1927) [2:18];
Leon Bosch (double bass)
Sung-Suk Kang (piano)
I Musicanti
rec. no details given.
MERIDIAN CDE84550 [79:13]

 


I can recall the two key works that won me round to the music of Gordon Jacob. Both were heard via Radio 3 broadcasts. The first was the devil-may-care and touching Viola Concerto with Frederick Riddle. The second was the swashbuckling Rhapsody played by Valerie Tryon with the GUS Band conducted by Geoffrey Brand. Jacob’s Little Concerto was written during the days when my musical horizons were broadening; not that I ever heard it until now. It has all the artistry and excitement of those other two concertos. It’s eager and bright-eyed in the outer movements with some salty percussion contributions to add to the string textures. The central Largo is a lovely and sensitive romance worthy in its different way to put alongside RVW’s Romance in the Tuba Concerto. Jacob’s famed fluency with so many instruments rewards both the adventurous Leon Bosch and the sympathetic and enquiring listener. 

And so farewell to the orchestra; after this it’s all Bosch alone or Bosch with Sung-Suk Kang. The Maconchy piece is pierrot-fey and dissonant; quite a gear-change from the Jacob. Thomas Pitfield’s triptych Sonatina takes us back to tonal shores with light-handed jazz and a sincere delightful blend of Bach and RVW. Berkeley’s piece is more reserved, as you may expect, and has the merest dash of dissonance. It recalled some of Berners’ miniatures but with a helping hand from Berg. David Ellis’s Sonata is for the double bass alone and is determinedly effortful. It’s a tribute to Bosch and Ellis that there is a pleasing sense of achievement in the projection of struggle and victory. John Walton’s Deep Song takes us back to sonorous tonality with a direct-speaking populist melody of considerable staying power. A touch of Dvořák hangs around this piece but none the worse for that. The Alan Bush Meditation is built around the ballad Geordie and is a meditation in the same sense that Bliss wrote Meditations on a Theme by John Blow. These are serious reflections in which the moods flicker and Bush’s sometimes heavy hand is withheld. It’s an outstandingly fine poetic piece and confirms that there is a viable repertoire for this grand instrument. The piano in each of the two Bush pieces reminds us of the Sea Song Variations for piano and orchestra. Indeed the twists and turns of string melody in the Scherzo recall the Second Symphony. Bush is as distinctive as Martinů yet ever turning towards the grave and serious. 

McCabe’s Pueblo for solo instrument is a major piece written for Bosch. It vividly portrays the desert; not in baking sunshine but icy cold. You must not look for conventional brilliance here except in the sense that the composer adroitly captures a sullen and even ruthless mood. McCabe makes tangy use of the instrument’s thrummingly deep bass and also its ethereal counter-tenor. Lutyens’ The Tides of Time is a piece in which both instruments plunge into the coldly statuesque world of serialism. It reminds me that Malcolm Williamson was fascinated by the 1960s sculptures of Henry Moore. To me this music seems to refer to that world. It was written for another great bassist: Rodney Slatford who was behind the Bush, Berkeley and Maconchy works as well. Alfred Reynolds’ jaunty and cheeky Hornpipe is the oldest piece here. It makes an ideal and ingratiating end to a generous recital built from contrasts. 

The notes could hardly be more detailed and span eighteen pages. All credit to Bosch who, I hope, will go on to uncover more treasures for the benefit of an audience far beyond the habituées of this gentle giant of an instrument.
 
Rob Barnett

 


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