“Capriccio di Bravura” = GIOVANNI BOTTESINI: Grand Duo Concertant in A Major for violin, doublebass and Strings; Grande Allegro di Concerto “Alla Mendelssohn” for doublebass and string quartet; Une bouche aimée; Tuto che il mondo serra for doublebass, mezzo-soprano, and piano; Capriccio di Bravura in A Major for doublebass and string quintet; Duo Concertant on Themes from Bellini’s I Puritani for cello, doublebass, and strings – Rick Stotijn, doublebass/ Liza Ferschtman, v./ Monika Leskovar, cello/ Christianne Stotijn, mezzo-sop./ Hans Eijsackers, p./ Amsterdam Sinfonietta/ Candida Thompson – Channel Classics multichannel SACD CCS SA 32612, 57:00 [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:
Although known today mostly as a virtuoso who expanded soloistic possibilities for the doublebass, Giovanni Bottesini was actually a man of many parts: performer on doublebass (as well as other string instruments), conductor, and composer—and not merely one in the service of his own instrument. He composed a number of operas that were well-received in their day and was a distinguished conductor of opera as well, in demand throughout Europe. Verdi chose Botttesini to conduct the 1871 premiere of Aida in Cairo—not too shabby.
Like most composers in the opera game, including Verdi himself, Bottesini branched out into other forms of vocal music, producing an oratorio and a requiem (which has recently been recorded by—who else?—Naxos). In addition to chamber and orchestral works for his own instrument, Bottesini wrote chamber music for other combinations, including no fewer than eleven string quartets. Today, he’s represented in live performance and on recordings almost exclusively by works for doublebass.
Bottesini’s was a more innocent age than our own. Perhaps you’ve heard the anecdote (probably apocryphal) about Franz Clement, who premiered Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. Between movements, Clement reportedly played a composition of his own on one string of the violin held upside down! Nothing so outré from Bottesini, luckily, but he did have the habit of carrying his doublebass on stage when he conducted an opera and then between the acts playing a fantasy on arias from the work! He published a number of such fantasies, among which can be included the Duo Concertant on Themes from “I Puritani.” Here, Bottesini pairs the doublebass with its little cousin, the cello, in a work that seems on first blush to make a lot more sense than the other combined works on this program, featuring violin, string ensemble, and even mezzo-soprano. That is until you hear the works and you understand that Bottesini (along with Domenico Dragonetti and a few others) was responsible for liberating the doublebass from its station at the bottom of the orchestral string section and giving it star status. And the instrument really shines and appropriately, sings in these works.
In fact, it’s immediately obvious that Bottesini’s background is in opera; most of the works on offer here have the character of an opera aria or scena. The exceptions are the fantasy on themes from I Puritani (which Bottesini conducted in London and Paris) and the Grande Allegro di Concerto “Alla Mendelssohn,” where Bottesini tries to capture the essence of the German Romantic solo concerto, writing a dramatic sonata-allegro in E minor (the same as in Mendelssohn’s work). It’s attractive and a welcome departure from the other, opera-flavored works on the program. Ditto the very pretty songs for mezzo, doublebass, and piano. For the second, Bottesini borrowed from Chopin’s Etude, Op. 25 No. 7; I have to say the borrowing is subtle enough that it went right over my head.
Throughout, Dutch virtuoso Rick Stotijn, principal doublebassist of the Amsterdam Sinfonietta and Swedish Radio Symphony, plays with beauty of tone and alacrity, which he needs to keep up with Bottesini’s demands in the Duos Concertant. Stotijn has expert support from Liza Ferschtman, Monika Leskovar, and his sister: mezzo Christianne Stotijn, who brings a burnished sonority and a vocal tear in the eye (pardon the crazy mixed metaphor) to Bottesini’s two songs. The Amsterdam strings provide a lush, cushiony backdrop to the proceedings, all captured in richly atmospheric surround sound. This disc won’t be for everybody, though it’s a must for doublebassists and deserves a listen from fans of string playing in general, as well as Italian opera and song.