20th Century Romantics
Reinhold Moritzevich GLIÈRE (1875-1956)
Four Pieces (1902-08) [17:08]
Astor PIAZZOLLA (1921-1992)
Kicho (1969) [7:10]
Ernest BLOCH (1880-1959)
Nigun from Baal Shem (arr. Bayley) [6:44]
Lajos MONTAG (1906-1997)
Extrême (1965) [2:39]
Derek BOURGEOIS (b. 1941)
Sonata, Op. 100 (1986) [28:58]
Nicholas Bayley (double bass)
Geoffrey Duce (piano)
rec. 2012, Royal Conservatoire of Scotland
NIMBUS NI6308 [68:43]

I have an interest in seeking out repertoire for double bass, but as a subcontrabass fluter player have to admit that the realistic chances of being able to recreate the kind or lyrical lines in the first of Glière’s Four Pieces is beyond my lung power. Attempting expressiveness on such an instrument has been known to give rise to plenty of comedy, but this is by no means the case with Nicholas Bayley’s playing. A good double bass player can sing in much the same way as a good cellist, using the sonorities of their instrument to take us beyond technical considerations. Rodney Slatford’s booklet notes describe how players have historically used re-tuning to pep up their projection, but standard orchestral tuning is more common practice today, and indeed is the set-up advocated by Bayley. Projection is an issue to which we may return, but Nicholas Bayley’s abilities are beyond question.

Glière’s Four Pieces fit more into the ‘Romantics’ than the ‘20th Century’ part of the title for this release, though having them as a pleasant opener is a good idea. From these we learn that they were written for Serge Koussevitzky, who was known as a virtuoso double bass player before becoming a conductor. With movements contrasting from the aforementioned lyrical Praeludium and a final Tarantella, these are excellent demonstration works for performers rather than compositions which will change your views on life. The melancholy voice of the double bass is very good for Astor Piazzolla’s style, and the name Kicho comes from the Argentenian bassist Enrique Kicho Díaz who worked closely with Piazzolla. The piece opens with an extended solo for the bass, which is then joined by the piano with Piazzolla’s distinctive rich harmonic progressions in a work more rhapsodic than dance-orientated.

Bayley’s own arrangement of Ernest Bloch’s Nigun forms a dramatic partner to the Piazzolla, the passionate side of the double bass rising in declamatory fashion above a piano part which does its best to sound orchestral. Lajos Montag was a Hungarian double bass virtuoso and creater of a highly regarded teaching ‘method’ for his instrument, though the booklet describes a rather tragic figure whose importance has yet to be recognized. The brief piece Extrême ranges from ‘flight of the bumble-bee’ virtuosity to folk-music like rhapsody.

The programme is rounded off with Derek Bourgeois’s Sonata for double bass and piano, Op. 100 which deliberately sets out to redress the balance in a lack of romantic works for the bass. There are some fine scrunchy dissonances to go along with the lyrical passions in the opening Allegro cantabile, the central movement is an Allegro ritmico which is one of the only places in this programme where pizzicato is explored in the bass, a percussive piano part being replied to in powerfully articulated bowing further along. The final Andante con variazione opens with a suberbly nuanced theme, the open character of which is perfect for the rhythmic and melodic adaptations it undergoes in the movement, right up to a weighty funeral march by way of a conclusion.

The recording for this release is good without being spectacular. The double bass is placed suitably in front of the piano in the sound picture, though with less stereo width. Balance is always problematic with low instruments, and there are some passages where the notes of the bass are rendered less than distinct under the volume of the piano, by which I in no way mean to say that Geoffrey Duce is an insensitive accompanist. This is somewhat in the nature of the beast, and I would prefer this resullt to any artificial boosting of one instrument over the other. The most important lyrical lines are all clear, and the sense of this as a chamber-music undertaking is well captured. If you are interested in unusual chamber music settings, double bass as a solo instrument and just rarely heard repertoire in general, then this recording has plenty to offer.

Dominy Clements
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