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The Sonatas
Johannes BRAHMS (1833-1897)

Cello Sonata, Op. 38, arr. Niek de Groot [26:43]
Sofia GUBAIDULINA (b.1931)
Double Bass Sonata (1975) [13:36]
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Double Bass Sonata (1949) [13:09]
Peteris VASKS (b.1946)
Solo Double Bass Sonata (1986) [16:56]
Niek de Groot (double bass); Catherine Klipfel (piano)
rec. 9-10 July 2014 (Brahms, Hindemith), 9 September 2014 (Gubaidulina), 20 April 2015 (Vasks), Muziekgebouw, Eindhoven, The Netherlands
NIMBUS RECORDS NI 6312 [70:24]

Niek de Groot’s recital, “The Sonatas,” is grandiosely titled, but he has in truth assembled three major double bass sonatas from across the twentieth century, plus his own arrangement of a Brahms cello sonata. The results are superb, a recital that demands you take the bass seriously as an instrument capable of great solo and chamber expression.

Niek de Groot was principal solo bassist for the Concertgebouw from 1996 to 2006, before leaving to pursue a chamber music career. His credentials, and his playing, are impeccable; he is a great performer. This is clear in the Brahms, where his transcription is perfectly fitting and fun to listen to. This being Brahms, pianist Catherine Klipfel has a lot of work to do as well, which she does with Brahmsian vigour.

Sofia Gubaidulina’s sonata is a one-movement arc that lasts about 13 minutes, with a brief, pensive introduction by the double bass player, who presents the main ideas. As de Groot notes in his booklet, the two instruments circle each other, slowly, struggling to connect. Like much of her work, Gubaidulina’s bass sonata is unrelentingly dark, especially the repetitive ending. Here de Groot’s booklet notes are a big help, for he worked on a performance of this piece with Gubaidulina herself. “It was touching to hear her question the quality of her work before we started playing — like with Kurtįg, but not with Stockhausen!”

Paul Hindemith’s piece is a different story, written in just two days in Taos, New Mexico on a country holiday. I’ve been to Taos. It’s hard to maintain a bad attitude there, surrounded as you are by beautiful mountain scenery and truly eccentric locals. The first movement of the Hindemith has a few echoes of the classical and baroque eras, filtered through the composer's usual way with harmony. There are darker moments before the piece is through, and ample opportunity for both de Groot and Klipfel to show their virtuosity and empathetic rapport.

The sonata by Peteris Vasks is the only solo sonata on the album. As de Groot notes in his booklet essay, this gave pianist Catherine Klipfel a chance for a well-deserved break: she was pregnant and is now a new mother. Vasks’ sonata, in four movements, is united by a minor-key motto idea, and follows the composer’s frequent pattern of a melancholy work that seems to search deeply for greater peace. There is a surprise at the end, when the bass player is called on to sing. I know a performer or two whose singing voices should prohibit them from ever adopting this into their repertoire.

Superb sound, excellent and witty notes by Niek de Groot — who also writes his biography in first-person — and in general an outstanding recital and a rewarding experience. This is a CD which truly demands that you expand your realm of musical knowledge. Don’t decline the opportunity.

Brian Reinhart

Previous review: Dominy Clements



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