Giovanni BOTTESINI (1821-1889)
Fantasia on themes of Rossini [11:13]
Passioni amorose [10:14]
Gran Duetto No. 2 in C minor [28:56]
Concerto a due Contrabassi [16:16]
Thomas Martin, Timothy Cobb (double-bass); Christopher Oldfather (piano)
rec. Recital Hall, State University, Purchase, New York, 3, 5 October 2007
NAXOS 8.572284 [67:05]

Saint-SaŽns uses a solo double-bass to comical effect in the Carnival of the Animals where it represents the elephant moving with ponderous grace to the Dance of the Sylphs by Berlioz. For Bottesini there was nothing comical about the instrument. He was after all a virtuoso of the double-bass, giving many successful concert tours all over Europe and the Americas. As if to prove just how serious the instrument can be, he wrote not only solos but many works for two double-basses. All those on this disc apart from the Gran Duetto also include the piano, but its role is essentially subordinate, even where its part may be technically demanding, as in the Concerto.

The sound of the solo double-bass, even when playing in its highest register and therefore able to match the actual notes played by a cello, is wholly different from that instrument. Indeed it is in some ways more akin to that of a viol, partly due to the lack of the fierce continuous vibrato that most professional cellists employ today. It is nonetheless a compelling sound, and after the initial surprise has worn off, it is far more than a mere comical curiosity. However on the evidence of the works included here, Bottesini was by no means an innovative composer. Not merely is the first work based on themes by Rossini but the language of the others is closely related to that of the older master. All make enormous technical demands on the two bass players. I have never attempted to play the instrument and have long admired those able to gauge accurately the long distance between notes on the strings. I can only guess as to how certain passages which seem to demand superhuman dexterity can be played on something so apparently unwieldy. The two players here display great bravura, playing fine instruments by Landolfi and Testore loaned specially for the recording.

All four of the works on the disc have three movements each, but the Gran Duetto is by some way the longest, being nearly twice as long as any of the others. Unfortunately it is also by some way the least interesting and most conventional in its themes and structure. However, it is certainly worth hearing once, even if one is unlikely to want to repeat the experience often. The other pieces are worth repeating. Overall an out of the way but rewarding disc whose strange but characterful sounds resonate in the memory.

John Sheppard

Out of the way but rewarding Ö strange but characterful sounds resonate in the memory.