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Giovanni Bottesini (1821-1889)
Music for Double Bass and Piano – Vol. 2

3 Grand Duos: Duo No. 3* [11:38]
Double Bass Concerto No. 2 in b minor [14:22]
Adagio melancolico ed appasionato, ‘Elegie par Ernst’ [6:35]
Duet for Clarinet and Double Bass** [9:43]
Fantasia on Bellini’s Beatrice di Tenda [11:00]
Une bouche aimée^ [5:14]
Tutto che il mondo serra (trans. of Chopin Etude No. 19 in C sharp minor, Op. 25, No. 7)^ [4:47]
Meditazione: Aria di Bach (from Suite No. 3 in D major, BWV 1068: II. Air) [5:13]
Joel Quarrington (double bass); Andrew Burashko (piano); Harold Hall Robinson (double bass)*; James Campbell (clarinet)**; Monica Whicher (Soprano)^
rec. Grace Church on-the-Hill, Toronto, Canada, 16 February 2004; Performing Arts Centre, The Country Day School, King City, Ontario, 27-29 July 2005; Glenn Gould Studio, CBC, Toronto, 3 July 2006. DDD.
Notes and texts included.
NAXOS 8.557042 [68:51]
Experience Classicsonline


A double-bassist by accident – it was either that or the bassoon at the Milan Conservatory – Giovanni Bottesini went on to tour the world as a virtuoso performer, the so-called ‘Paganini of the double bass’. Though he also wrote operas (Cristoforo Colombo, Havana, 1848) and oratorios (The Garden of Olivet, Norwich Festival, 1887), only his compositions for his beloved instrument have survived, tenuously, in the repertoire. His Grand Duo for clarinet and double bass was included on a Talent CD of music chamber music with clarinet, coupled with works by his father, Pietro Bottesini, last year (2910 124 – see review).

My colleague MC found that disc a refreshing change and a breath of fresh air. I’m not sure that I’d quite echo that description – I’m more inclined to agree with his summing-up : "Not indispensable by any means but a well performed and recorded disc of lightweight Italian bel canto instrumental music."

The opening piece, the Gran Duo No.3, for two double basses, certainly fits that description, though it is ‘lightweight’ only in a limited sense. The instruments often plumb their subterranean depths in the short opening andantino, confirming my worst fears of lumbering and lugubrious elephantine music; the presto section does much to atone, though a double bass duo must perforce have its limitations.

The CD front cover names the Concerto No.2 and Tutto che il mondo serra, as if these were the most attractive pieces on the recording but, for me, the interest lies mainly in the Clarinet Duetto and the Bellini Fantasia. The Concerto is an attractive enough piece, though its title is perhaps misleading for the modern listener. Bottesini did write works for double bass and orchestra – CPO and ASV have recorded some of them and there is a Naxos recording on 8.570397: brief samples may be heard or the music downloaded at classicsonline and emusic – but this is not one of them, though it has the fast-slow-fast three-movement form and it is attractive enough. Its hints of the Cuban bolero remind us that Bottesini spent some time as the principal bassist of the Havana orchestra. Plenty of subterranean depths here, too – and in the Adagio melancolico, which is just troppo melancolico for me.

I’m not sure if the piece billed here as a Duetto for Clarinet and Double Bass is the same as the Grand Duo for those instruments on the Talent recording; if so, the present performers are a trifle slower than their rivals. Be that as it may, I found this the most attractive piece on the new CD – probably because the clarinet adds a degree of welcome variety to the cello/piano sound. It receives a fine performance from clarinettist James Campbell, whose playing here demonstrates why his recording of the Brahms Clarinet Quintet (Cala CACD1009) has received very favourable reviews. The Naxos notes remind us that this music demands virtuosity of both feeling and technique and this it receives on the present recording.

The two principal players, Joel Quarrington and Andrew Burashko, too, blend confident technique with feeling for the music. I don’t know how Quarrington would compare with the composer’s own Paganini-like playing, but I can’t imagine anything much better than what is offered here. Apart from the two opening works, all the music here was edited by Quarrington himself.

In the Bellini Fantasia, Bottesini and his interpreters here manage to make the double bass sing in an attractive bel canto manner, reminding us that the double bass, like the cello, does have an upper register. Attractive as this is, it is hardly memorable.

The vocal pieces, too, require both feeling and technique. Monica Whicher produces pleasant enough performances of the two pieces in which she features but I can’t help feeling that she is not entirely at home in this music. Perhaps the texts, which the notes admit to be routine bourgeois expressions of popular Romantic sentiment, failed fully to inspire her, but I note that she has been most acclaimed for her performances of Mozart and baroque music, including Naxos’s own recording of Rameau’s Castor et Pollux. In his review of the Rameau, RH thought that "she ... has a fine voice, but there were hints of strain in the upper registers." JW in his review of the same CDs thought that in her finest moment "she sings with moving power." I did not find that power in her singing here. In any case, I fear that the Chopin transcription employed in Tutto che il mondo serra sounds better in its original format.

The final work on the disc, Meditazione, is a straight transcription of the famous Bach Air; as such it is little more than a makeweight.

The recording is unexceptional – not particularly vivid, but generally offering a faithful representation of the music. The notes are brief but informative and the cover, as usual with Naxos, sports a contemporary painting. That it is the attractive work of a talented but unexceptional Italian artist somehow seems appropriate for the musical contents.

This is a pleasant enough CD, but I’m not sure that I shall want to play it very often. It didn’t encourage me to rush out and buy or even download the same performers’ Volume 1 (8.554002 – available to sample or as a download from classicsonline or emusic). I’m a little more tempted to experiment with the other Naxos disc of the First Concerto referred to above – just 6 tracks out of my monthly allocation of 50 tracks for £11.99 from emusic.

For once I’m not going to take the current Penguin Guide or the Gramophone Guide too much to task for omitting Bottesini in their coverage. Four CDs of his music did find their way into the 2006/7 Penguin Yearbook; in one of these the music is described as amiable but not very distinctive, which is spot-on. I’m sorry to be damning with faint praise, when Naxos really deserve our thanks for introducing us again to out-of-the-way repertoire.

Brian Wilson



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