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20th Century Romantics
Reinhold GLIÈRE (1875-1956)
Four Pieces (1902-8) [17:09]
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)
Kicho (1969) [7:10]
Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)
Nigun (arr. Bayley) (1923) [6:45]
Lajos MONTAG (1906-1997)
Extreme (1965) [2:39]
Derek BOURGEOIS (b.1941)
Sonata, Op. 100 (1986) [29:00]
Nicholas Bayley (double bass); Geoffrey Duce (piano)
rec. 2012, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, Glasgow
NIMBUS NI6308 [62:43]

If you don’t often buy double bass recitals, here’s a good reason to start. This is a winning CD, full of attractive music expertly played. Nicholas Bayley is first bassist of the BBC Scottish Symphony and formerly principal for the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. The composers, both familiar and otherwise, are at their best.

Reinhold Glière, best known now for his gigantic, hyper-romantic Symphony No. 3, didn’t always practice loud Russian nationalism in his music. The Four Pieces here could be from anywhere: Germany, France perhaps, maybe even England in the cheery scherzo. Glière had the gift of catchy tunes, both in that scherzo and elsewhere, including a tarantella finale which gives Bayley the chance to show off his dazzling skill. Being so fast with such a big instrument must require athleticism.

As an aside: those Glière pieces were written for Serge Koussevitsky, who was to achieve greater fame after moving from the double bass to the conductor’s podium. Nimbus’s booklet notes tell us that Koussevitsky recorded a bass recital in 1929, “revealing a slightly rusty player” and joking “there were no re-takes in those days!”

The next piece begins with a slow, soulful bass solo at the very bottom of the instrument’s range. You may find yourself wondering who wrote this music, until the piano enters at the two-minute mark. Then a tiny hint from earlier becomes a full confession: this is Astor Piazzolla, writing a hybrid aria/tango in his unique voice. Lyrical episodes intermingle with the usual heated dance music. It’s a great piece.

Ernest Bloch’s Nigun needs little introduction, but this is a very effective arrangement by Nicholas Bayley himself, and impassioned playing to match. Bayley digs into his part, as does pianist Geoffrey Duce. Duce is a talented accompanist, chamber music performer, and teacher, whose globe-hopping career includes masterclasses in the Middle East and teaching stints at three American conservatories.

Lajos Montag’s cute miniature Extreme in no way prepares you for Derek Bourgeois’s sonata, the biggest and most substantial thing on the album. Bourgeois’s piece is the most recent, but also the most accurate fit with the album title "20th Century Romantics". This is a big, ambitious, carefully-structured work in conventional forms and harmonies. Aside from an intimidating march-like interlude around 6:30, the first movement takes late Brahms as its beginning, and perhaps a dose of Richard Strauss’s big melodies, too.

To be sure, this is not a totally old-fashioned piece. The scherzo, a quick dance with an infernal tread, could not have been written in the 1800s. I don’t think the final theme-and-variations, ending on a funeral march, could have been either. One of the variations has odd Middle Eastern exoticisms. Should I mention Saint-Saëns? That said, Bourgeois’s sonata was written “to address the death of large romantic works for the instrument” and it succeeds completely. I don’t know of many large works, from the original romantic era, which compare to it.

Every piece on this programme is a success that deserves your ears. Bayley and Duce make for great partners throughout — a truly satisfying chamber collaboration. I don’t have too many double bass albums in my collection. Is that a mistake on my part or is this just an unusually fine example? Either way, I’m captivated by this release.

Brian Reinhart

Previous review: Dominy Clements



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