Giovanni BOTTESINI (1821-1889)
Double-bass Concerto in B minor (18) [16:13]
Gran Concerto in F sharp minor (c.1878) [23:23]
Gran Duo Concertante, for double-bass, violin and orchestra [14:18]
Pyotr Ilich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)
Variations on a Rococo Theme, for cello (double-bass) and orchestra, op.33 (1876) [18:19]
Ovidiu Badila (double-bass)
Keng-Yuen Tseng (violin)
Orchestra I Pomeriggi Musicali di Milano/Marco Zuccarini
rec. Sala Asteria, Milan, 26-28 January 1998. DDD
DYNAMIC DM 8020 [72:20]
As the recording date suggests, this CD is a re-issue, originally released by Italian label Dynamic in 1998 with the catalogue number CDS 210. It now appears as volume 20 of their somewhat random 'Delizie Musicali' ('Musical Delights') series, though the original disc, with a far less fruity cover, is still widely available on the internet.
Quite a bit of Bottesini's substantial output for the double-bass is now available on CD: earlier this year, in fact, Dynamic released Bottesini's String Quartets as Volume 12 of this series - see review. Yet Dynamic lag a long way behind Naxos, who in recent years have been building up their own 'Bottesini Collection', featuring a variety of double-bassists. There are five volumes so far (8.570397, review, to 570400, and 8.572284, review): Volume 1 contained two of the major works on this disc, the Gran Duo Concertante and the Double-bass Concerto in F sharp minor. There are also two other discs of double-bass with piano (8.554002, 8.557042, review), Volume 2 of which features the B minor Concerto (known as no.2, also sometimes labelled as being in A minor!) in Bottesini's own version for double-bass and piano.
Elsewhere, Edgar Meyer on Sony Classical (SK 60956), Wolfgang Harrer on VMS (607, review) Gergely Járdányi on Hungaroton (HCD 32230) and Boguslaw Furtok on CPO (999 665-2, review) have all recorded one or more of the works on this disc in all-Bottesini programmes.
There is plenty of choice, then, for anyone wishing to listen to the "Paganini of the double-bass", a path that all music lovers should venture down without hesitation. Whether or not this Dynamic disc is strong enough to recommend itself above any of the others is arguable, however. The orchestral performances are solid enough, but sound quality is not as high as it could be, with the double-bass closely miked and tending therefore to 'boom' slightly at times, and the orchestra coming over a bit wan.
But these minor faults detract little from Ovidiu Badila's amazing musicianship, or the quality of the music. A contemporary account of Bottesini's playing likened his tone to "a hundred nightingales caged in his double-bass", and there is no doubt, on the evidence of these works, that Bottesini possessed an unerring ear for enchanting melody. The music is unquestionably 'old-fashioned', but nevertheless highly inventive, at least as far as the double-bass writing is concerned, and very Italian. Of the Gran Duo Concertante a contemporary critic is said to have written: "It is necessary to hear Bottesini in the piece to discover what possibilities are hidden in the giant of the stringed instruments; to hear what can be done in the way of sonorousness, tone, lightness of expression and grace."
It appears also that this is the only recording of Tchaikovsky's Variations on a Rococo Theme in a delicious and convincing transcription for double-bass of the solo cello part. The booklet does not indicate who made the transcription - presumably it was Badila himself. Sadly, Badila died at the age of 38 in 2001, a household name in Romania but hitherto neglected abroad, and the fact that this disc is part of his fine legacy is a further reason to prefer it over the competition - but in that case, Dynamic's 4-CD Badila-Bottesini box set (CDS 412), released in 2003 in memoriam, is a much better deal, available on the internet for little more than the cost of this single disc - which is part of that set!
The CD booklet is perfunctory, with brief notes by Badila in occasionally unnatural translation. As usual in this series there are, rather shamefully, no biographical notes - a photo of each soloist is all there is.
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Ovidiu Badila's displays amazing musicianship in quality music.