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Giovanni BOTTESINI (1821-1889)
Ero e Leandro: Prelude (1879) [4:47]
Concertino in c minor for double-bass and strings* [16:35]
Il diavolo della notte: Sinfonia (1858) [4:38]
Passioni amorose for two double-basses and orchestra*/** [11:15]
Elégie in D* [5:28]
Ali Babà: Overture (1871) [5:28]
Duo Concertante on themes from Bellini’s I Puritani for double-bass, cello and orchestra (1851)*/*** [13:31]
*Thomas Martin (double-bass); ***Moray Welsh (cello)
London Symphony Orchestra/Franco Petracchi (**double-bass); **Matthew Gibson.
rec. Abbey Wood Studio 1, London, 5-7 January 1994.  DDD.
Formerly issued as ASV CDDCA907
NAXOS 8.570398 [62:24] 
Experience Classicsonline

Bottesini was a world-travelling celebrity in his day, yet he is now almost forgotten – he was just a name to me until recently. I’d even forgotten that he conducted the premiere of Verdi’s Aïda until I looked him up in the Oxford Companion to Music.

He may have become a double-bassist by accident, that being the only instrument left at the Milan Conservatoire, but Bottesini came to love the instrument. The double-bass is never far away from his music, a fact which tends somewhat to limit its appeal, as I discovered when I recently reviewed Volume 2 of Naxos’s series of his music for double-bass and piano (8.557042 – see review). I found myself damning the disc with faint praise, though appreciative that Naxos were again introducing us to new repertoire. 

The two overtures, to Ero e Leandro, which opens the programme, and Ali Babà, and the Sinfonia from Il diavolo della notte, are free from double-bass solos. They are attractive if undemanding music – the sort of thing that could be slipped in appropriately with the music of the Strauss family in the VPO’s New Year’s Concert.  I don’t think he wrote ballet music, but the Ali Babà overture makes me think he could have been at least as successful as Adam. 

The Concertino features the double-bass chiefly in its higher registers.  I imagine that there is very little here that couldn’t be played on the cello; the tone of the cello would, indeed, probably sound more agreeable in this music.  It’s much more attractive than some of the deep lugubriousness which I found on the earlier CD, even in the wistful slow movement; indeed, it’s unlikely to make a strong impression for good or ill.   The finale is the most attractive movement, with occasional pre-echoes of Elgar and a lively final flourish. 

Naxos are probably right to give this piece pride of place in their billing.  It’s very well played by soloist and orchestra and well recorded – just a little distant; I’d recommend turning up the volume by a couple of dB. 

The Sinfonia from Il diavolo is hardly evocative of the age of Louis XIV, despite its title and the period in which the opera is set.  It sounds thoroughly of the age in which it was written, the mid-19th-century – if it’s at all redolent of an earlier age, it’s the age of Rossini – the final section is almost pure Rossini.  Again it’s attractive but hardly remarkable music and, of course, the cellos and basses feature quite prominently, though not in a solo role. 

Passioni amorose was written for Bottesini to perform with his friend Arpesani.  It’s an early work, designed chiefly to display the instruments and, despite the exotic promise of the title, I found it easy on the ear and equally easily forgettable.  The foot-tapping finale made the most impression on me, but I doubt if I shall be able to remember any of even that movement. 

Nor does the following piece, the short Elégie, make much impression either.  It is possible for this kind of music to make a strong impression – think of Elgar’s Chanson de Matin – but this is just, once again, agreeable listening. 

The Duo Concertante on themes from I Puritani is the concertante equivalent of Chopin’s operatic paraphrases.  Like the wind-band arrangements that Mozart and his contemporaries made of his operas, they serve the purpose of making the music familiar to those unable to hear the operas, but, like Chopin, this piece makes considerable technical demands on the two soloists – demands which are ably satisfied here, though once again I found the music itself pretty unmemorable. 

What I’ve said about the opening work holds true throughout – you could hardly imagine the music better performed by all concerned and the recording is fine if you turn the volume up slightly.  There’s nothing here to frighten the horses – and that’s the problem: I want to be challenged more than this, even by music designed for easy listening, and I miss the challenge here. 

As usual with Naxos, the notes are brief but informative.  Gaspare nello Vettro’s general notes on Bottesini and Thomas Martin’s on the music overlap slightly, but they are none the worse for that.  Martin himself seems to be as great an aficionado of the bass as Bottesini himself – not only does he play the instrument, he also makes them - over 140 according to the notes. 

A curate’s egg of a disc, then – nothing to annoy, especially in terms of performance, recording and presentation, and I enjoyed it much more than the chamber works on the earlier Naxos CD, but very little that is memorable.  It’s even driven me to repetitiousness in my comments.  If, however, you like this music more than I do – not that there’s anything to dislike – you’ll find another ASV-derived recording of the Gran Concerto in f# minor and the Gran Duo Concertante on the companion Naxos CD, 8.570397 – see my colleague Glyn Pursglove’s review.

Brian Wilson


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