Giovanni BOTTESINI (1821-1889)
Music for Double Bass and Piano
Fantasy on Bellini's 'La Sonnambula' [9:21]
Elegia in D [4:39]
Theme and Variations on an Air by Paisiello [6:17]
Fantasy on Bellini's 'La Straniera' [11:43]
Introduction and Variations on 'Carnival of Venice' [10:15]
Stefano Sciascia (double bass)
David Giovanni Leonardi (piano)
rec. IN Studio, Treviso, Italy, 10-15 May 1994. DDD
NEWTON CLASSICS 8802105 [51:31]
As the recording date suggests, this CD is a re-issue, originally released by Italian label Rivo Alto in 1994. Newton have simply given the thing a cosmetic facelift, with a fresh cover and, more importantly, new notes.
A fair amount of Bottesini's substantial output for the double bass is now available on CD. Last year, for example, Dynamic released separate discs of his String Quartets (review) and three of his concertante works (review). Yet Dynamic lag a long way behind Naxos - distributors for Newton Classics incidentally - who in recent years have been building up their own-label 'Bottesini Collection', featuring a variety of double bassists. There are five volumes so far (8.570397, review, to 570400, and 8.572284, review), plus another two outside the official 'Collection' featuring double bass with piano (vol.1 = 8.554002, vol.2 = 8.557042, review). The brief Elegy in D and the Reverie both appear on volume 1, but otherwise Bottesini fans can snap up the lot without fear of repetition.
Indeed, anyone wishing to listen to the "Paganini of the double-bass" - a path that all music-lovers should venture down without hesitation - has plenty of choice these days. The works in this attractive recital by Italian soloist and accompanist Stefano Sciascia and David Giovanni Leonardi are not among Bottesinii's most significant, it must be said - this is mainly a selection of salon-style pieces written primarily for paying punters, with three short original works slotted in among fantasies and variations on big opera hits of the period. Yet a contemporary account of Bottesini's playing likened his tone to "a hundred nightingales caged in his double-bass", and there can be no doubt that he possessed an unerring ear for enchanting melody - or for doing spectacular things on the double bass with other people's enchanting melodies!
Bottesini takes full advantage of the bel canto tunefulness of his source material in the Fantasies and Variations, giving audiences not only familiar music from the popular operas, but also stunning contrabass virtuosity. However, Bottesini never resorts to vulgarity - graceful flowing lyricism always seems uppermost in his music, rather than a more Paganinian long-haired diabolism. In fact, in the Elegia and RÍverie he shows another side of his instrument: its ability to give the cello a run for its money when it comes to lush, wistful nostalgia.
Stefano Sciascia's performance on what at the time was his debut CD is delightful, considerably more elegant than his website, where he can be seen frolicking on the beach with a double bass, as only an Italian can get away with! His playing is full of character, warmth and wit, and not without frequent heroics as he scales the same heights and plumbs the same depths that Bottesini did before him. Leonardi's piano, as might be expected, has little to do by comparison - the odd dramatic introduction apart, it is usually restricted to an almost continuo-like role - but Leonardi keeps his ear in well nonetheless.
Audio quality is good, although the balance is slightly lopsided, with the double bass centrally placed but the piano picked up chiefly in the left channel. Sciascia's breathing can occasionally be heard, but the intrusion is negligible.
The booklet notes are by Fiona Palmer, biographer of the earlier Italian double bass wizard, Domenico Dragonetti, and are informative and reasonably well written - with a minor tendency towards wordiness and business language. They are translated into French and German. Anyone wanting to learn more about the two soloists must look elsewhere - the booklet has nary a word on them.
Collected reviews and contact at reviews.gramma.co.uk
Sciascia's performance is delightful.