Bass World magazine n° 33
The Dark Side of the Bass
Francesco Fraioli, double bass
Francesco Buccarella, piano
N.B.B. Records NBB23 2009
The dark Side of the Bass features stunning performances by Italian double bassist Francesco Fraioli with Francesco Buccarella on piano.
The CD includes three sonatas for double bass and piano by the composers Vilmos Montag, Hans-Peter Linde and Paul Hindemith.
On the first track, the first movement (Allegro moderato) of the sonata by Vilmos Montag, Fraioli establishes his wide range of dynamic expression and depth of lyricism. Clearly, he is very influenced by one of his teachers, Francesco Petracchi.The entire work demands a legato tone that must be maintained over the wide register and over string crossings.
Fraioli's agile shifting and string crossing technique allows him to maintain the dramatic and intense lyricism that score demands.
Aided by the recording engineer's decision to utilize a close mic, he is able to clearly articulate every note of the rapid gestures while sustaining his lyricism throughout. However, it was very surprising to hear him occasionally negate his best qualities by opting to perform some of the spiccato passages very off-the-string. Fraioli's pizzicato tone is supportive, deep,very sustained, rich in overtones, and most importantly, dark in timbre. This is especially true at the end of the first movement. Perhaps his dark, rich timbre is what inspired the title of the CD. Despite the close mic, which favors clarity of fundamental frequencies and transients of the envelope more than the overtones of the bass, I'm even more impressed at how Fraioli was able to achieve such dark timbres under these circumstances.
The Vilmos Montag Sonata was composed in 1967, but its careful chromaticism and restrained emotion will remind the listener of the conservative romanticism of the cosmopolitan French tradition of the late 19th century. In other words, if you liked César Franck's Sonata for Violin and Piano, you will like the Montag. The effective writing is very idiomatic and does not confront the double bassist with unreasonable and unmanageable difficulties. Vilmos Montag wrote the Sonata for his brother, Lajos Montag, a double bassist. The Sonata by Hans-Peter Linde, also written in 1967, will immediately remind listeners of the music of Shostakovich, especially the fugato section of the first movement. Also, like much of the music of Shostakovich, the Sonata by Hans-Peter Linde successfully walks the tightrope between the two extremes demanded by late 20th century audiences. it is accessible to the casual listener, yet the work can also satisfy the more sophisticated listener who also wants to analyze the work on multiple levels. Fraioli's approach on the Linde Sonata differs from the Montag. It is much more passive, careful, and in some places, even introspective in nature. The approach is cautious, carefully studied and rigorously appropriate. It is absolutely à propos for the mood of the Linde Sonata. There are formidable double stops in the third movement, and Fraioli executes them with poise and precision.
The final sonata on the CD is Paul Hindemith's Sonata for Double Bass and PIano(1949). Fraioli realizes this venerable staple of 20th century repertoire with distinctive lyricism. Both Fraioli and pianist Francesco Buccarella eschew the traditional, misguided practice of square, mechanical and cold phrasing that has often plagued performances of the Hindemith Sonata. From the first sustained note, Fraioli shapes each note with sensitive detail drawing from his expressive vibrato and his command of the lyrical strokes in his right-hand bowing technique. The interpretation is fresh and classic all at once. The recording engineers Lorenzo Gerace and Stefano Cappelli are to be commended for their recording of the piano and double bass in an unusual space that would normally invite unwanted resonances and distortions of the sound waves. Not only did they compensate for such an unfavorable environment, they were able to allow the reverberations of the hall to appropriately color the sound of the double bass and piano. The balance of the double bass and piano in terms of volume and frequency distribution across the spectrum allowed for a unification of the two instruments as a chamber ensemble and ultimately empowered the musicians to produce a recording that is both transparent and ideal.
-review by Jeremy Baguyos
The dark side of the bass project aims at emphasizing the “hidden” assets and qualities of the double bass; on the one hand highlighting the instrument’s enthralling poetic aspect while on the other hand stimulating interest in its repertoire.
Conceived together with Luca Aversano, lecturer in the history of music at the DAMS department of Roma Tre University College of Liberal Arts, the project’s relationship with the academic world has proved so fruitful that it has transcended the mere cultural level and lead to the shared use of a physical space. In fact, the university’s main hall was transformed into a recording studio that hosted both the musical performances and the recording sessions.
Relying on the technical mastery and performance skills of Francesco Fraioli on double bass and Francesco Buccarella on piano, The dark side of the bass features works by Vilmos Montag (Sonata in E minor, 1967), Hans-Peter Linde (Sonata in E, 1967) and Paul Hindemith (Sonata, 1949).
Besides their being paradigmatic examples of twentieth century music, the artistic style of double bass, as brought into play by these works, has proved a valid testing ground for daring musical experiments, whilst allowing for the creation of refined aural moods.
One of the highlights of the CD, for both its cultural and historical relevance, is the premiere recording of Hans-Peter Linde’s Sonata in E (1967). Furthermore, the author has even agreed to be personally involved in the project by providing an introductory note to the sonata for the booklet accompanying the CD.
---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Vilmos Montag, sonata in e minor for double bass and piano (Ed. F Hoffmeister, 1967)
Vilmos Montag was born in Budapest February 16, 1908. A student of V. Kladirko and N. Zsolt, he received his diploma in violin at the music high school in Budapest. Later, he graduated in orchestral conducting at the national conservatory. At the same time, he studied composition with L. Lajtha and graduated with honors (Franz Liszt award). At the age of 20, Montag joined the Budapest Opera orchestra as well as that of the philharmonic society. In 1957 he moved to Sweden where he continued composing and where he died in 1991.
His musical production consists of pieces for piano solo, a method on piano playing, 5 cadenzas written for the classical concert repertoire, orchestral works, chamber music and a mass. The sonata for double bass and piano in e minor, composed in 1967, is a product not only of musical inspiration, but of family alliances, as well. In fact, it was his brother Lajos Montag who asked him to compose a piece for the double bass. Lajos was a first rate double bassist and composed considerable music as well as a didactic method for the instrument. The part of the double bass in this sonata is transposed a step down from the normal pitch, except for the lowest string. The three higher strings are raised a whole tone according to the classic tuning of Bottesini, while the bottom e-string remains the same. The result is a mixed tuning which opens up new melodic possibilities. Instead of the normal perfect 4th intervals between the strings: e-a-d-g, we now have e-b-e-a. A perfect 5th between the first two strings, and an octave between the first and third. This allows for further sonorous effects at the end of the first movement, when the e and b strings are played pizzicato and sound like the striking of bells.
The sonata opens with an allegro moderato based on a modal melodic theme. As the movement continues through different tonal colors, there’s a running dialectic tension between the double bass and the piano. The atmosphere is very similar to the late romantic aestheticism of early Fauré and Cesar Franck. In fact, the structure of the entire sonata is inspired by Franck’s cyclic composition technique. The theme from the first movement returns under different guises in the following two movements, the themes of which are none other than germinal thematic elements from the first movement. The result is thematic and sub-thematic configurations. The andante opens with a highly expressive melody which calls to mind a tender melancholy, almost a nostalgia for a “far west” much like the Dvorak’s “New World” symphony. The cantabile atmosphere unexpectedly changes, however, into a neurotic alternating of glissandos between the two instruments. The return of the opening mellifluous melody brings to a close the A-B-A structure of this second movement. The third movement, allegro, clinches this beautiful work from the double bass repertoire, in a grandiose manner, culminating in the sublime expression of the last measures.
Hans Peter Linde, sonata in e minor for double bass and piano
Hans Peter Linde was born in Leipzig in 1937. From 1955 to 1961 he attended the music hochschule of Leipzig where he studied the cello with Friedemann Erben and August Eichhorn and composition with Johannes Weyrauch. He played the cello with the Gewandhaus orchestra of Leipzig form 1962-2002. He continued his studies in composition with Siegfried Thiele from 1973-77, and under his guidance took his state exams. As violist da gamba, he made many tours in Europe and Japan. He also took up musicology, speaking in various conferences and publishing treatises on the viola da gamba and pardessus de viole. From 1973 he was founder and director of the chamber music association, Concentus Musicus Lipsiensis, made up of musicians from the Leipzig Gewandhaus orchestra.
Professor emeritus from 2002, he has dedicated himself to pedagogy pertaining to composition as well as the viola da gamba. The main body of his compositional output includes, among other works, didactic pieces for cello, written in collaboration with his wife Doris, orchestral pieces for student youth orchestras, chamber music for string quartet and other various chamber formations (mixed ensembles with violin, cello, double bass, viola da gamba, viola, harpsichord, piano, flute). He has also composed lieder on texts by Ossip Mandel and Hildegarg Gerstenberger and written a symphonic poem for large orchestra.
The sonata is intended for the concert tuning of the double bass: f#-b-e-a. This is why the part of the solo instrument is transposed a major second lower than the real pitch. The movements are Grave-Allegro moderato, Andante tranquillo, Largo, Allegro, Più tranquillo-Tempo primo. The sonata was written for Hans Jurgen Schmidt, first double bass with the Leipzig Gewandhaus who had knowledge of the technique of harmonics (flageolets). As far as the style of composition is concerned, the objective was to create an effective piece for the double bass in accordance with the instrument’s technical possibilities and written in a semi-modern style. In fact, after 1949, East Germany took a different political and ideological path from the rest of Europe. Music was intended to be comprehensible even to the musically uneducated and contemporary composers were expected to abide by this supreme law. Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and eventually Bartok were considered the role models, and this is made evident in the musical style of this sonata for double bass.
A grave of intense pathos (harmonized in chromatic 4ths ) serves as an introduction to the first movement. An allegro moderato follows, beginning in a fugato style and growing to a climax that takes on an air of invocation. A second theme composed on 5 notes, leads the piece back to the fugato and finally to the motif from the opening grave, played by the soloist. Instead of a development, there is a brief intermezzo (molto meno mosso) . By means of the harmonics played by the soloist and the touch of the piano, the listener is transported to another sonorous dimension. The recapitulation with the previous musical elements generates the tension once more that leads back to the opening grave motif. The movement ends sottovoce, accelerando, and diminuendo.
In the second movement, Andante tranquillo, the piano plays a pentatonic motif in which the double bass interjects and comments, in a way, on this thematic material leading to a fermata. At this point, the allegretto moderato returns, animated by a figuration on the piano and leading to a distended cantilena played by the double bass. All this brings us once again to the opening ritornello of the andante tranquillo. Once again, the musical discourse gathers vitality, but only to end once more with the opening ritornello. From here there’s a transition taking us to a largo. Figurations in an almost cadenza-like fashion climbing towards the high register leads us to the conclusion: the same figurations descending in minor thirds to the lowest register of the double bass.
Ringing piano tremolos open up the third movement, allegro. The soloist looks for the sign of a rapid change, losing vigour almost immediately and dying out without a goal. A melodic transition takes us to the exuberant glissandos and grotesque double string jumps. A molto tenuto builds up the tension again, reminding the listener of the solo motif from the opening grave. The ritornello from the second movement (più tranquillo) is also heard again. Harmonics steal us away towards other sonorous atmospheres. The recapitulation reappears impetuously with piano tremolos and the listener is driven to the conclusion. Accented 4ths on double chords in a threatening sequence prelude a renewed impulse of piano tremolos. But these are rapidly stopped by the pizzicatos and harmonics of the double bass. The più tranquillo meditates again on the motif of 4th s which constitute the entire sonata. In the tempo primo, the opening motif leads us rapidly to an expressive and pathetique ending. The musical idea of the grave from the first movement appears in it’s completed form, victorious and filled with optimism.
Paul Hindemith, sonata for double bass and piano (Ed. Schott, 1949)
Paul Hindemith, one of the principle German composers of the 20th century, was born in Hanover am Main, in 1895. Despite the precocious and exceptional talent showed in his learning of the viola, his parents went against his aspirations in music. The very young Hindemith thus began to play in cafés and ballrooms in order to autonomously finance his musical studies. In 1909 he became a student at the hochschule in Frankfurt. After graduating, he dedicated himself primarily to performing: from 1915-1923 he was 1st violinist and later, conductor of the Frankfurt opera orchestra. In the years after the first world war, he began to make himself known as a composer. These are very active years for him. In 1921 he became the violist of the famous Amar Quartet, with which he performed in all of Europe up until 1929. This activity, however, did not stop him from gaining recognition for his compositions, particularly in the German speaking countries. The confirmation of his worth as a composer came with the performance of his two quartets, op. 10 and op.16 at the Salzburg festival in 1922. This success was reconfirmed in 1923 and 1924, again at Salzburg, with his clarinet quintet, op. 30 and his trio.
In 1926, Hindemith became fervently interested in the “Jugenbewegung”, a movement stimulating progress in musical activities. It was begun by a group of young passionate music lovers and amateurs involved in private and scholastic sectors. Stimulated by their collective activity, he wrote Spielmusik, Gemeinshaftmusik, and Schulwerk. Recognizing Hindemith’s concern over problems in musical education, the Berlin Musikhochschule appointed him professor of composition. As a result of this pedagogic activity, he formulated his idea for his monumental didactic opus “l’Unterweisung in Tonsatz”, begun in 1927 and published in 1937. This is a landmark in the history of music theory, based on the concept of “grundton” – fundamental tone- generator of all melodic, harmonic and contrapuntal composition.
Hindemith participated in the vigorous intellectual circles in Germany. With Bertold Brecht he composed the music to Lehrstuck and with Gottfried Benn, the oratorio Das Unaufhorliche. In 1934 he began his most universally recognized masterpiece “Mathis der Maler”. The growing Nazi party, however, did not appreciate the work of this composer. However his influence on young composers (and not only from the german ranks) was very strong. Despite the endorsement of Wilhelm Furtwangler, the nazi party accused him of “internationalism”, labelling his art “depraved”. In 1935 the Turkish government called him to Ankara to organize a school of music. In 1937 he was forced to retire from his teaching position in Berlin. After this he made his first tournée in America presenting and performing his own works. With the outbreak of the war in 1940, he left Europe for America where he received his citizenship in 1946. His teaching position at Yale and summer courses at Tanglewood and Stockbridge confirmed the prestige he had acquired. He returned to Europe, in Switzerland in 1953. In 1955 he received the “Sibelius” prize and in 1963, the year of his death in Frankfurt, he received the “Balzan” prize.
The sonata for double bass and piano in B major was composed in just a few days in August of 1949. The piece is not one of the most famous of the series of sonatas he wrote for all orchestral instruments; a project begun in 1936 and concluding in 1955 with the bass tuba.
The sonata is composed according to Hindemith’s characteristic chamber music style, with a contrapuntal and biting rhythmic make-up. It also presents innovative compositional techniques. Just as Stravinsky, Fortner, Copland and others felt the need to experiment with the 12-tone series, so did Hindemith attempt to adopt the language to his needs in the sonata for double bass and piano. This is not evident in the works immediately preceding this one, the new version of Marienleben or the cello sonata, both composed in 1948.
In accordance with normal usage, Hindemith, too, requests the tuning up of the instrument a whole tone. The first movement has a gay and animated character. The following scherzo allegro assai has volatile changes in metric indecations. The last movement, Molto adagio – Recitative – Lied, closes with a simple song introduced by a musical dialogue between the two instruments in the form of a recitative.