Gary Karr was called by Time Magazine “the world’s leading solo bassist,” and in fact he was the first to make that a full time career. He debuted with Leonard Bernstein and the NY Philharmonic in 1962, and has performed with orchestras around the world. His three double bass recitals on Italian cable TV reached 20 million viewers. After 40 years on the international concert stage, Karr played his farewell public concert in Indianapolis in 2001.
This versatile pair of discs came about because Classic Records’ Mike Hobson heard a King LP of Karr encores and wanted to reissue it on his label. He was finally was able to get the master tapes for two Golden Crest albums, with one entirely of works especially written for Karr by the late, versatile American composer Alex Wilder.
The composer Henry Eccles died in 1742 and was ahead of his time in creating works just for the double bass. His four-movement sonata displays a wide range of expression and quickly modifies any listener’s perception that writing solo works for the unwieldy bass instrument is an absurd task. The short encore selections show the ability of the bass as a melodic instrument over a wide pitch range, but they don’t include one of Karr’s most famous encores – the Albinoni Adagio in g.
Alec Wilder was a prolific composer who liked to fashion works especially directed toward a particular performer he liked, such as Karr. Wilder wrote many great popular songs, chamber and band music, music for children, and many works for solo instruments with piano accompaniment. His chamber works were often spiced with jazzy elements and his jazz octets were spiced with classical elements, including such instruments as harpsichord and bassoon. These three works for double bass and either piano or guitar are all very accessible, tuneful, and lighthearted. Karr’s bass is given some beautiful, singing melodic lines, which he plays to the hilt. The Suite with guitar is interesting due to the similar plucked sounds of both instruments, which often meld into a tasty timbre.
The masters were only two-channel tapes, so the Classic note booklet describing the three-channel option as well as the materials being transferred from three-track 35 mm film stock is in error. Each of the three playback options enhances the fidelity by a hearable amount. The CD is good but not great, the Dolby Stereo DVD-V side is quite a bit cleaner and more detailed, and the 192K stereo of the DVD-A side definitely achieves the most transparent two-channel sound. But on all three options the double bass is heavily confined to the left channel speaker and the piano to the right, with a considerable void between them. Golden Crest was evidently following the early stereo era practice of making sure listeners realized this was really STEREO. I was pining for my old Apt-Holman preamp which had a handy L/R blend control. Since I must play back DVD-Audio thru the analog six-channel direct inputs on my Sunfire preamp, it is impossible to select Dolby ProLogic II processing. That would have probably filled in the center channel properly as well as added some ambience via my surround speaker system.
– John Sunier