MODERN AMERICAN BASS • Robert Black (db); John McDonald (pn) • NEW WORLD 80722 (2 CDs: 86: 28)
IADONE Double-Bass Sonata. H. STEVENS Arioso and Etude. PORTER Lyric Piece. MOROSS Bass Sonatina. LUENING Suite. Read more class="COMPOSER12">BEYER Movement. CHILDS Sonata for Bass Alone. PERLE Monody II. SYDEMAN For Double-Bass Alone. CAGE _59 1/2. TENNEY Beast. DRUCKMAN Valentine
This issue screams that it is a real collector’s item, for specialists only. By specialists, one might suppose double-bass players. But I am not one, and somehow the 86 minutes fly by (the program is just too long to fit on one disc, alas). Recording quality is top-flight, enabling balance issues (really only relevant to the first disc, for accompanied bass) to fade into the background.
Joseph Iadone (1915–2004) is a name new to me. Apparently he was a renowned lutenist, and a pupil of Hindemith at Yale. His sonata for bass and piano dates from 1944–50 and, indeed, there are shadows of his teacher here. My Fanfare colleague Robert Carl has penned the liner notes, claiming that the finale is the “stand-out” movement, with the bass player instructed to play pizzicato throughout. And so it is, but one should point also to the expert construction and sheer delight of the first two.
The piece by Holsey Stevens (1908–89) is most appealing, from the song of the Arioso (bassist Robert Black in fine fettle here) to the more agile, delightful Etude. Here the playful side of Black and McDonald is given full rein. But it is the music of Quincy Porter (1897–1966) we need more of in the catalog, so it is great to see his brief Lyric Piece of 1950 here. There is an Impressionist influence in this gently ambling piece. Listen for Black’s superbly rendered harmonics.
The name of Jerome Moross (1913–83) was just that, a name, to me until I heard this piece. He was active in film and Broadway. The gorgeously atmospheric pastoral that is the work’s first movement (an andante) gives way to an active allegro ma non troppo, superbly shaped here. The second movement is positively infectious; the finale is a twilit nocturne with pizzicato bass underpinning slow piano chords.
Otto Luening (1900–96) is most often linked with Vladimir Ussachevsky for his work with electroacoustic music (see my review of a Ussachevsky disc in Fanfare 31:6 for more on that composer). For the first time on the twofer, in his suite, we hear truly challenging sounds, as the bass grinds the work into being. Contrasts quickly redress the balance, injecting sweetness into the mix. Interestingly, it is this feeling of mixing idioms that gives the piece its interest. The central movement is almost naive, while the finale, Coplandish in harmonies, adds a further flavor to the recipe. Finally for the first disc, music by Joanna Beyer (1888–1944), her 1936 Movement. Despite the early date (it is the earliest piece here), it is decidedly forward-looking. Beyer manages to pack whole worlds into the piece’s four-minute duration.
The second disc explores the unaccompanied bass repertoire. Barney Childs (1926–2000) was long based at the University of California at Redlands. In 1960 he wrote the present work, the Sonata for Bass Alone, the second movement of which pits classical against more swinging modes of discourse. Black hints at the swing perfectly, while the finale enables his virtuosity to come to the fore.
George Perle (1915–2009) is still perhaps best known as an analyst of the music of Berg (his two books on the operas) and his theory of 12-tone harmony. Monody II (1962) is a little microcosm. Carl is absolutely right in his liner notes to suggest multiple listenings. It is evident, too, that Black shows the utmost respect to the score; one can almost hear the care he has put into this.
The piece by William Sydeman (b.1928) comes from the composer’s early, modernist period. Cast in three movements, it includes virtuoso demands (admirably realized by Black) as well as displaying a notable modernist streak of melancholy in the slow finale.
Cage’s 59 1/2 is from 1953 and for solo string player. I love Carl’s description of it as “a little like time-lapse photography,” which seems spot-on. James Tenney (1934–2006) needs to be better known (interested readers should explore Spectrum Pieces played by the Barton Workshop on New World 806922). Beast of 1971 is uncompromising in its growly stasis. The E string is tuned down a semitone, then an open A string is added. Microtonal fluctuations, notated graphically, shape the piece. Utterly unique; strangely disturbing.
Finally, Jacob Druckman (1928–96) and his virtuoso piece Valentine. Strange knockings abound (a timpani mallet is used to play the instrument). Carl memorably describes the work as “a love note to the instrument” and outlines the work’s eroticism well. While it would be better to see the work actually performed (the sheer excitement of watching such superhuman processes must be visceral indeed), this remains a gripping recording, and a fine way to close a fine set.