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Laura RĂ³nai
Fanfare, November 2008

Considered a Bottesini specialist, having written about him and recorded four CDs with the composer’s works, Martin is a virtuoso player who can brilliantly tame these extremely difficult works, written to highlight Bottesini’s own celebrated instrumental abilities. Notes fly and cascade, musical pyrotechnics are mingled with overly lyrical melodies and bombastic harmonic effects of all sorts. …catchy, irresistible, and a lot of fun to hear. Martin’s conception is, not surprisingly, straightforward. After all, the works already have so much color, ornament, and pathos that the straightforward approach works just fine. © 2008 Fanfare Read complete review

American Record Guide, September 2008

Bottesini was considered the Paganini of the double bass, and one can easily understand why so few are willing to try to perform his works.

Thomas Martin certainly has the virtuoso qualifications. Emma Johnson, as always, plays the clarinet perfectly. Jose-Luis Garcia is a fine violinist. Andrew Litton conducts well. …The notes are brief but helpful.

Glyn Pursglove
MusicWeb International, July 2008

This attractive sampler of the music of Giovanni Bottesini, famous as a virtuoso of the double-bass and also a competent composer and successful conductor - he conducted the Cairo premiere of Aida in 1871 - was originally issued as ASV DCA 563. On ASV it was volume one of a series of four – perhaps the three other discs will also be reissued on Naxos?

Bottesini was one of those Italian musicians who found themselves labelled - or more likely invented the label as a marketing device? - “the Paganini of [their instrument]”. So just as, for example, Cesare Ciardi was referred to as “the Paganini of the flute” and Antonino Pasculli as “the Paganini of the oboe”, so Bottesini was known as “the Paganini of the double-bass”. Some of the music he wrote to show off his technique and his technical innovations is of little enduring interest, save to those who have a specialist concern with it. But, for the most part, the music on this present CD, while hardly of major importance, has a wider appeal.

There is often an air of the opera about a good deal of Bottesini’s music; aside from his work as a conductor in the theatre, he wrote some thirteen operas, the most successful being Ero e Leandro premiered in Turin in 1879. The Gran Duo opens with a heroic march which would not be out of place in the opera house and more than a few of its melodies are reminiscent of the same environment. What we hear here is not Bottesini’s original conception of the work – which was as a concerto for orchestra and two double-basses. Instead we hear a version prepared by the violinist Camillo Sivori (1815-1894), with whom Bottesini sometimes toured. In it one of the double-bass parts was rewritten for violin – and much enlarged – by Sivori, so that the two could play the concerto in concert. There are some strikingly high notes required of the bassist, as well as some testing pianissimos. Thomas Martin meets the demands pretty well, though here, and elsewhere on the disc, one would have liked to hear some slightly more assertive playing, some greater sense of instrumental display. Martin seems sometimes rather too reticent (if accomplished) a soloist fully to capture the flavour of Bottesini’s bravura music. Garcia plays with a rather greater sense of showmanship, perhaps better suited to the spirit of the music.

The Andante sostenuto for strings is an impassioned piece which sounds rather like an operatic intermezzo and would pass muster on the modern concert platform as part of a programme by a good chamber orchestra - and it is certainly played by one here. In the Duetto for Clarinet and Double-Bass Emma Johnson and Thomas Martin exchange phrases with an attractive sense of dialogue and though no great depths are plumbed, this makes for pleasant, relaxed listening.

The Gran Concerto which closes the disc is in three movements and is a rather more searching work. The writing for double-bass here goes beyond any sense of simple showmanship, however impressive. There is more musical substance and complexity here, the musical structures are more elaborate and the harmonies sometimes a little unexpected. Yet at the heart of the concerto, as at the heart of most of the music by Bottesini which I have heard, there is an essential simplicity, a kind of directness of feeling, a sense of social conversation, which while it may not make for music of great profundity certainly led Bottesini to the composition of music which is tuneful, accessible and consistently pleasant. I, for one, hope that Naxos will reissue the other three volumes in Thomas Martin’s Bottesini series. Incidentally, Thomas Martin’s website is well worth visiting if you want to learn more of Bottesini’s remarkable life.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, April 2008

There should be a law to protect musicians from the cruelty perpetrated by such composers as Giovanni Bottesini

There should be a law to protect musicians from the cruelty perpetrated by such composers as Giovanni Bottesini. He was the greatest double-bass virtuoso the world has ever known, yet his story is nothing short of bizarre. It began in the 1830’s when the musically gifted young Giovanni attended an entrance interview at the Milan Conservatory only to find they had just two places left, one for a bassoonist and the other for double bass. His father, so anxious for his son to become a musician, signed him up for the bass, and the poor youngster had but weeks to learn the instrument to a standard that would please the Conservatory. Four years later he had become the finest exponent of the instrument Italy had ever known. Named “the Paganini of the Double Bass” he toured Europe bemusing audiences with his brilliance on an instrument not then known as belonging to the solo world. The problem he faced was finding music to show his dexterity, the answer only coming by creating a series of his own compositions. Truth to tell they are musically pretty threadbare, but they are full of instantly memorable tunes, and still serve to test the resources of the most gifted of our present day performers. By far the finest and most enjoyable is the Gran Duo Concertante for Violin, Double Bass and Orchestra in which Bottesini also calls upon the violin to perform feats of considerable dexterity, while the bass has to dance around the accompaniment in a way that only the great virtuosos of the instrument can achieve. The Gran Concerto is a most extensive score written in the style of Paganini, Bottesini having had the intention of creating a symphonic work. It is here played by the much experienced Thomas Martin whose section leadership of orchestras on both sides of the Atlantic has provided a long career. He has all of the technique required to perform the highly improbably acrobatics, though the Concerto does reveal many moments of questionable tuning. He is joined by Jose-Luis Garcia in the Gran Duo, and by the outstanding clarinettist, Emma Johnson, in the Duetto for Clarinet and Double Bass. The English Chamber Orchestra under Andrew Litton stoke up the temperature during interludes between solo death-defying acts. Previously available on ASV, this 1986 recording remains one of the best in its genre.

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