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James Manheim, November 2009

The music of Giovanni Bottesini, the “Paganini of the double bass,” has been subjected to a multi-disc examination by the indefatigable Naxos label. Players of the instrument may well want the entire series, but the present release may make a good choice for the general listener who wants just one. Its advantage is the variety of material, nicely arranged so as to be evocative of a concert spectacle of Bottesini’s time. A nineteenth century concert would often include vocal as well as instrumental elements, and this disc includes some of Bottesini’s songs. Ci divide l’ocean (track 9) is an attractive item still well known in Italy, and the presence of the songs serves to point up the vocal quality of Bottesini’s melodic lines, nicely set off against passages in which the instrument is growling or whistling at its registral extremes. The double bass pieces themselves are a varied group, with the bow-shredding virtuosity reserved for last in the Introduction et variations sur le Carnaval de Venise. Bach’s Air on a G string is here, rechristened a Meditazione, and there’s a nifty evocation of Chopin, a operatic potpourri, variations, and several flat-out gorgeous tunes. Bassist Thomas Martin is equal to the challenges Bottesini throws at him, and the studio sound is above average. Booklet notes are in English only; song texts are given in Italian and English.

David Denton
David's Review Corner, February 2009

If Giovanni Bottesini’s father had not looked so greedily at the prospect of enrolling his son in the Milan Conservatoire, we would never have had the greatest double-bass showpieces ever composed. The story has oft been told that on finding places were left only for bassoon and double-bass, he signed his young son into the double-bass class though the boy had never played the instrument. Still only a teenager he became the greatest exponent ever known in the mid 19th century, and to make sure he had no rivals, he composed music of a difficulty only he could play them. Today they still pose a massive challenge, a fact that Thomas Martin cannot hide. Its not just a question of dexterity, but one of pitching the notes high on the fingerboard and exerting sufficient downward pressure to make them sound. Previously released on the ASV label in the late 1990s, it features three of his best-known scores, the Fantasia on Bellini’s La Sonnambula, Capriccio à la Chopin and the Introduction et Variations sur le Carnaval de Venise. Martin takes no chances with his mainly steady pulse,but does throw caution to the wind in the Capriccio. The disc includes four works with soprano voice, including the tender Melodia and the sad Romanza. They are well sung by Jacquelyn Fugelle. Anthony Halstead goes dutifully through the piano accompaniments, pulling rhythms around to help Martin through some horrendous passages. The recording quality is acceptable.

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