Ask the average music-lover to name a conductor who also was a double bass virtuoso and they are likely to name Serge Koussevitzky. Fair enough, but the 1800s also had a man who fit that description, and he was a composer as well. His name was Giovanni Bottesini, and he was born in 1821 and died in 1889. Unlike Koussevitzky, he probably was more famous for playing the double bass than for conducting, but in the latter role, he had his share of successes too. For example, he was chosen by Giuseppe Verdi to conduct the première of that composer's Aida.
Of course no first-hand evidence remains of Bottesini the conductor and Bottesini the double bassist, but he composed around 180 works and these have had greater staying power. Many of them were written for his chosen instrument, ranging from short works accompanied by the piano to full-length concertos. (He also composed several operas.)
The contents of this CD were recorded in 1986 and originally were released on the AS&V label. The earliest work, the Gran Duo Concertante, originally was written for two double basses, but Bottesini rewrote one of the solo parts for the violin. The other three works were recorded for the first time in their original versions here, although Yngve B. Olsson's short booklet notes don't indicate in what ways these works subsequently were revised.
Bottesini was no trendsetter as a composer. Rossini was thirty years his senior, but Bottesini's musical language is hardly more advanced. It's a bit of a shock to read that the Gran Concerto, the latest work here, probably dates from the late 1870s. No matter, though. What Bottesini lacked in innovation, he made up for in charm. When the double bass is your instrument, you have to be charming, I guess … or at least compose charming music!
AS&V assembled a first-class roster of soloists for this recording in 1986, and 22 year later, they still leave nothing to be desired. Double bassist Thomas Martin, who plays in all of these works save the Andante sostenuto, has a beautiful singing tone throughout, and he neither screeches in the upper register nor galumphs in the lower. Johnson is one of the digital era's most appealing clarinettists, and remains so here, and José-Luis Garcia always brings poise and class to music from this era. Andrew Litton and the English Chamber Orchestra make an assured and stylish contribution. AS&V's engineering has surrendered nothing to time. This disc is recommended for those who want something off the beaten path that nevertheless is not too intellectually challenging.
Copyright © 2008, Raymond Tuttle