In the USA in the 1950s
and 1960s while academia signed up to dissonance and audience
alienation, the wind-bands held true to melody and sometimes
to heroic values. Giannini’s temperament and creative inclination served
this movement well.
the windband CD first, the Dedication Overture
through Tchaikovskian evocation, Hansonian grandeur and
pre-echoes of the great John Williams cinema scores. Two
years before that came his tragic Fantasia
demands a grown-up emotionalism. It is a splendid work
in which Giannini turns to the darker realms and makes
of them a Hansonian pilgrimage. The Praeludium and
is at first broodingly intense and then
whips and snaps in a Waltonian blaze. The final pages are
torridly romantic - a tormented emotional climax. The Third
is in four movements. It has the good heart
and rejuvenating qualities of Randall Thompson's Second
Symphony. The second movement is plaintive and outdoors
in tone. A bubblingly Respighian Allegretto
the way for a joyful and largely unclouded finale. By contrast
the Variations and Fugue
is sombre and heavy
with the tense and brooding atmosphere of the Praeludium
. It is however more obliquely expressed
- perhaps picking up on a tinge from the dissonant hegemony.
But it is only a tinge - no darker say than any part of
Hanson's Sixth Symphony.
band give good sharp and soulful performances but I can
imagine more brilliance from a band on the sort of crackerjack
form to be found from the Eastman Wind Ensemble in its
glory days with Frederick Fennell.
orchestral music Giannini plunges with no sense of reserve
into romantic waters. That sense of immersive adventure
is asserted immediately in his 1934 Piano Concerto
This is a work of epic mien and proportions. The style
is not difficult to pin down: Giannini was completely in
his element with the grandeur and nostalgia of Rachmaninov.
This is music that is stirring, evidently sincere and poetic.
Chopin might however have been at Giannini's shoulder in
the peaceful Adagio
but this stillness is needed
after the turbulence and torment of the first movement.
The finale resumes the fray but with a closer engagement
with Russian models such as the Scriabin and Arensky piano
concertos. A fine concerto then - with the grandest
epigones were not uncommon in the 1930s and perhaps this
work may convey some of the sense of romantic confidence
radiated by the Russian’s English disciple Roger Sacheverell
Coke. We must wait and see.
wrote seven symphonies. One of these days we will surely
have a boxed set. As it is we must take our acquaintance
when we can get it. Here is the first recording of the Fourth
- a work in three movements and slightly more
than half the length of the Concerto. It belongs comfortably
and unblushingly in the company of the neo-romantic symphonies
of Creston (2 and 3), Barber (1) and Nicholas Flagello
(1). Its Sostenuto e Calmo
central movement is glorious,
with burnished brass and sheeny lavish string-writing up
there with the slow movement of the Rachmaninov Second Symphony.
If the finale misses, by a shade, the consistency and concentration
of the Barber First and Hanson's Second it nevertheless
projects a sense of implacably constructed symphonic roundedness.
for both the Naxos discs are by Walter Simmons who has
taken to himself the task of documenting the forgotten
romantics of America's 20th century. He has proved more
than equal to the task: as eloquent in information as he
is effective in advocacy.
disc sets out three works for double-bass and orchestra
- none claiming to be a concerto. All are rooted in the
exigent romantic stream of the twentieth and twenty first
the vibrancy of the Giannini Psalm 130
wishes it ran for 38 minutes rather than a single movement
of just short of eighteen minutes. Right from the start
he unequivocally declares his credentials which are very
much those of Barber and Bloch - Schelomo
the instantly obvious parallel. The Barber connection is
with works such as the three Essays, the First Symphony
and the Prelude to a scene from Shelley
the concertos. You may also find linkages with one of Giannini's
pupils. the wonderful Nicolas Flagello and his hyper-romantic
First Symphony blessedly recorded on Naxos.
Fredrickson's double-bass fully embraces the instrument's
singing and virtuoso celloistic role. The music and Fredrickson's
playing are fully engaged in the romantic tempest that
is this cauldron of the emotions. Frankly this is a wonderful
piece with which I have been deeply impressed since first
hearing a tape of what I take to be the 1963 premiere in
which the soloists was Fredrickson's teacher Gary Karr.
a tendency to treat the double-bass as a bit of a buffoon
- the provider of ponderous bass ostinati and the sort
of propulsive grunt you get at the start of Bax's Sixth
Symphony. Here Giannini writes a piece that does for the
Double-Bass what Vaughan Williams did for the Tuba when
he wrote his Tuba Concerto. The instrument is treated as
a singer and eloquent adventurer in its own right; just
as it should be. This is no shallow display piece so no
need to fear the sort of travesty concertos created by
Grutzmacher out of Boccherini.
accords the instrument a full range voice in its own right.
The music seems to speak from Giannini's deepest reserves
prompting thoughts not only of Barber but also of Korngold
and the rather benighted Bax Cello Concerto. Some of the
more scathing moments sound a little like Rawsthorne (Symphonic
) towards the end for the last five minutes.
Giannini has the double-bass enjoying the orator's limelight
and proclaiming the gospel of twentieth century angst and
I was very
pleased to see Walter Simmons’ outstanding note. It combines
high-minded advocacy with readable scholarship for Giannini.
Do get his book “Voices in the wilderness” - (Scarecrow
for double-bass and orchestra was written
in the last decade. It deploys lyricism and recognises
that the instrument is every bit as deserving of the
centre-stage as the cello. It voices both the deepest
and the most elusively evanescent emotional material.
After hearing this piece I would very much like to get
to grips with Carbon’s concertos for piano, trumpet,
violin and clarinet. Here the double-bass takes the role
of the noble endangered species imagined as wandering
in the Rockies. Carbon's canvas is alive with activity
and incident and his orchestration is more transparent
than that of the Giannini. He has a Berlioz-like gift
for diaphanous fabric. It's certainly not an archetypical
avant-garde piece. Carbon is a direct communicator, writing
in direct line to lyrical voices as various as Delius,
early Stravinsky, Bax and Frank Bridge. The piece develops
a singing head of eloquent steam at 08:42 onwards. At
the close the music seems to evoke the inimical forces
of civilisation and we are left wondering whether the
species has been stamped out or 'survives' a pale degenerate
shadow amid back-streets and yards. The ending is a violent
expostulation by full orchestra.
William Thomas McKinley is no stranger to CD. His works
have for example appeared on Nancy Van Der Vate's Vienna
Modern Masters series as well as extensively on MMC (Master
Musicians Collective) discs. After a troubled passacaglia
comes a sidling easy-swinging first Variation (tr. 4 1.56).
McKinley's links with the jazz and popular worlds show
in his gift for relaxation and gritty little rhythmic
hooks. This is very much a sequence of tableaux, some very
small. However the romantically susceptible theme remains
recognisable at all times.
McKinley and the Carbon were written for Richard Fredrickson.
to my first paragraph it is interesting that with the exception
of the three movement Wilfred Josephs concerto - recorded
by Fredrickson's teacher Gary Carr on ABC Classics
- there are no twentieth century double-bass concertos
written with the grander scheme in mind. The instrument
is still regarded as a high risk. However these works provide
deep rewards especially the masterful Giannini. Here are
opportunities for young and old players alike to shine
and display subtlety and poetry.
plays for a short time but the musical rewards, especially
in the case of the Giannini, are very high if you have
a predilection for music in the Barber-Walton pattern.
I hope that this important work will be taken as the skirmisher
for a growing catalogue that will take in all of Giannini’s
symphonies; the Second and Fourth for orchestra are very
impressive and the third is well known to windband specialists.
His First, Fifth and Sixth I have not heard.
Fredrickson was kind enough to provide some additional
background which appears below.
see also review by Jonathan
Woolf of Naxos 8.559352
I first performed the Giannini Psalm 130
was 21, and have been in love with it and performed it
many times since. At the age of 21, I never dared to think
in terms of recording anything yet, but even then I knew
in my heart that the Giannini was something I truly wanted
to record. Guess it took a while, but this is the first
recording of it. It was written for Gary Karr in 1963,
and I studied it with him in 1970. It is a work of passion,
drama and beauty, words not usually applied to "concerti" for
the double-bass. It is a great joy and rather thrilling
to perform. I feel that it and the Josephs Concerto are
two of the most beautiful original concerti for the double-bass.
The Giannini is our "Schelomo", if you will.
You will find much interesting information about Giannini
and the Psalm 130
in the liner notes written by
Walter Simmons, who, as you know, is quite a scholar on
that period of American music and Giannini in particular.
John Carbon's Endangered Species
and William Thomas
were commissioned by me.
I had heard John's Rhapsody
for clarinet and orchestra
when performing it with the New York Chamber Symphony,
and knew immediately I wanted to commission him. His orchestrations
and lines are uniquely his. He communicates. Any musician
with whom I have spoken that has played his music all say
the same thing - he is a real composer with something to
say. As this was his first piece for double-bass, we spent
many hours on the phone going over technical changes to
the solo part. Even after that, it is still technically
very difficult. I had to utilize fingerings that are considered
sort of no-no on the bass, i.e., cross-string fingerings
high on the fingerboard on strings lower than the top string.
It has been considered that playing that high on the second
or third string does not produce a good sound. It can,
but one must work at it. Cellists have always been doing
this, but it is a relatively new concept on the bass. I
think with today's composers, it is the only way to make
many passages playable. John also likes to employ the "Gypsy" scale
which, while an intriguing and provocative device (if I
may), does not readily lend itself to the tuning in fourths
of the bass. Thus in any given passage I would have to
begin one kind of finger pattern, then, shift to another
type pattern to finish the passage, yet make it sound seamless.
A bit unnerving at first, but totally worth it. His music
can be very exciting as well as somewhat otherworldly,
which appeals to me greatly.
William Thomas McKinley is a prolific and much performed
American composer. Tom called me from his office one day
to say he was working on my piece, and that he had decided
it should be a passacaglia. He then played the opening
theme for me on the piano. I laughed and said how perfect
it would be that a piece for double-bass, which almost
always plays the ground bass, should be a passacaglia.
Tom seems to be very fond of the variation style of composition,
so it suited him perfectly. Technically, the Passacaglia
Both the Endangered Species
and the Passacaglia
two of the hardest pieces I have ever encountered. Well,
I guess I asked for it! They are both excellent works,
and I feel very happy that I have been able in some way
to help contribute to the repertoire for the double-bass.
Several pieces have been written for me over the years,
and it is always an extremely exciting endeavour to prepare
and perform them for the first time. Tom has subsequently
written another piece for me for clarinet, double-bass
and orchestra which I just recorded the end of May 2005
with clarinetist Richard Stoltzman and the Slovak Radio
Orchestra, Kirk Trevor conducting.
By the way, the order in which these works appear on the
CD is, coincidentally, the order in which we recorded them.