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
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
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
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.