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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]
Experience Classicsonline

If you run from Gordon Jacob to Elizabeth Lutyens you’re going to cover quite some stylistic ground. Add the fact that all these works feature that apparently cumbersome beast, the double bass, and you might reasonably wonder what you’ve let yourself in for. Two very good counter arguments eagerly present themselves; firstly Leon Bosch, the double bass player, whose feats of virtuosity would have made the shades of Koussevitzky and Eugene Cruft positively blanch in astonishment. And the second is frequent onlie begetter of a number of these works, Rodney Slatford, who also contributes mightily to the sleeve notes. And let’s add the third and most obvious reason, the variety of the repertoire and its strength. True not everything is of equal strength but there’s plenty to excite and intrigue and in performances as awesomely assured as these you know you are in safe hands.
We start with an odd man out. Gordon Jacob’s A Little Concerto was composed in 1973 for Double Bass and Orchestra. So this is the only time we hear the bass accompanied by a small band – here I Musicanti. Elsewhere it’s just down to Sung-Suk Kang. Jacob ensures that folkloric blood courses through the veins of the first movement, that the central movement is a rather beautiful, touching, slightly grave utterance, and that the finale registers with avuncular charm. The engineers have closed miked the band so Jacob’s frolicsome writing registers with maximal impact.
Maconchy’s piece opens with some seesawing, frankly bilious glissandi. These in turn lead to thrumming pizzicati and a quizzical piano response. Maconchy writes splendidly of sonority and space and closes the arc with a return to now less-pronounced glissandos. Thomas Pitfield was not the chap for Maconchy’s brand of modernism, though he was her elder by four years. His Sonatina is characteristically light hearted with a folk song Quodlibet as a central movement. But best of all is the finale where the piano leads, only to be cut across by the bass and an ensuing larky stroll between the two. Lennox Berkeley’s Introduction and Allegro moves from austerity to a rather attractive, slightly wan lyricism; it’s a work of conversational ease and no striving for effect, and one that avoids greyness entirely successfully.
The Sonata by David Ellis was written in 1978 and it blends fierceness with reflectiveness; I’m sure it can’t be coincidental that some of the writing reminds me of cello passages in Brahms’ Double Concerto. John Walton’s piece is very different, a really charming song lasting less than four minutes.  Alan Bush contributes two pieces; the Meditation is a Britten Lachrymae outtake and far preferable to the nondescript Scherzo about which I can find nothing worthwhile to write.
John McCabe’s Pueblo is, by contrast, a real piece of music and written for Bosch in 1986. The angular chill summons up a frozen landscape. Does the higher register writing at 9:20 suggest calls across the ice? This desert ice scene has a hypnotic allure. Lutyens’s piece is an exercise in introspection and texture and it’s juxtaposed with the last item, Alfred Reynolds’ saucy 1927 Hornpipe – someone had a sense of humour to put these two together.
Full marks to all involved in this enterprise even when the works – relatively few – fail to impress.  Bosch should be encouraged in his quest.
Jonathan Woolf       

see also review by Rob Barnett


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