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A Virtuoso Double Bass
Paul HINDEMITH (1895-1963)
Sonata for Double Bass and Piano (1949) [12:56]
Aleksander LASOŃ (b. 1951)
Music in Four Parts for Double Bass and Piano (1977) [11:59]
Nino ROTA (1911-1979)
Divertimento Concertante for Double Bass and Piano (1971) [23:58]
Kamil Łomasko (double bass), Karina Komendera (piano)
rec. November 2018 (Lasoń) and January 2021, Podlaska Opera and Philharmonia, Białystok, Poland

Hindemith was a prolific composer of sonatas, ranging from seven for the violin, of which three are for violin alone, and including such diverse and less frequently found instruments as the trombone, the cor anglais and, as here, the double bass. Nominally in three movements, the finale is separated into three distinct sections, giving the impression of a work in five short movements. The faster sections will put listeners in mind of the neo-classical style, though the music sounds not at all like Stravinsky, only like Hindemith. The piano part is quite involved, and the composer exploits the double-bass’s singing possibilities throughout the work. This is most in evidence in the first part of the finale, a passage that achieves the very particular kind of melodic beauty found in many Hindemith works. The closing minute, ‘Lied: Allegretto grazioso’, rounds the work of with a flourish and a smile.

Wikipedia reveals an impressive list of works by Aleksander Lasoń, as well as numerous awards, but I admit his name was new to me. His Music in Four Parts for Double Bass and Piano is, as its title, suggests, in four short movements, the first three of which are played without a break. The first movement, ‘Chorale Prelude’, is solemn and features some courageous and highly effective double-stopping. Brave, too – the instrument is not really known for its lightness of foot – is to entitle the second movement ‘Dance’. The solo instrument stomps along with gusto, and a contrasting passage toward the end features some highly effective writing in the upper register. This upper register, incidentally, is a region in which the piano part also spends a fair amount of time. The third movement, ‘Song’, closes with each instrument near the top of its range, the piano’s constant tremolandi providing a very effective accompaniment to the double bass’s cantabile line. On a first hearing I found the final movement to be the least effective, a highly energetic and rhythmic opening and close, separated by a solo cadenza that takes up 2½ of the piece’s 3 minutes. Perhaps this first reaction was triggered by the fact that I found all three of the previous movements immediately attractive and capturing the listener’s attention. The composer has found many brilliant solutions to the problem of writing for this instrumental combination, and this is certainly a work to which I will be returning, as well as, I hope, finding more music by Lasoń.

Nino Rota, on the other hand, is well known to cinema-goers as the composer of the music to Zeffirelli’s Romeo and Juliet as well as two of the ‘Godfather’ films. Here he is in concert music guise, and a most original work he produces. It does not sound like film music, but the idiom is less advanced than in the other two works in this collection. The clue to the nature of the work is found in the title, with much disarmingly Mozartian writing, first encountered in the long piano introduction that opens the first of the four movements. A substantial cadenza leads to a light-hearted, incongruous but delightful ending. The playful mood is maintained in the second movement, whereas in the third it is the instrument’s ability to spin a sustained, singing line, especially in the upper-middle register, that is brought to the fore. The finale is highly energetic and spectacularly virtuosic for both instruments.

We learn from the booklet that Kamil Łomasko and Karina Komendera are highly respected musicians working extensively in academic circles in Poland, as well as appearing on the concert stage at home and abroad. I have not seen the scores of any of the three works programmed here, but one is convinced of the players’ technical and interpretive mastery by listening alone. Łomasko’s tone quality is most satisfying, and he makes the most of the colours available throughout the instrument’s register. The double bass is a fearsome beast that takes some taming, however, and just occasionally I wished that the recording balance had worked a little more in the pianist’s favour. Curiously, however, the tremolando accompaniment in the third movement of the Lasoń sometimes obscures the solo instrument’s melodic line.

The booklet notes are not very helpful when it comes to the programme, though the clunky English translation may be the cause. Otherwise, the booklet, featuring several photos, is well up to the Acte Préalable luxury standard. A recital of music for double bass and piano might not, however, be everybody’s immediate first choice, and the short playing time is a further disincentive. This is a pity, because here you have superb performances of three little-known works, an invitation, in other words, to an adventurous listener to extend her or his musical horizons.

William Hedley

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