Meyer, Bottesini: Concertosby Edgar Meyer
On the face of it, Edgar Meyer and Giovanni Bottesini (1821-1889), the two composers represented on this entertaining and out-of-the-ordinary album, wouldn't seem to have that much in common; one is a leading figure in today's American musical scene, the other a nearly forgotten 19th-century Italian. It turns out, though, that in addition to being composers, both are supreme virtuosos of that unsung instrument, the double bass, and share, in very different ways, a wonderfully playful approach to music. Many listeners will already be familiar with Meyer and his style-hopping ways through his award-winning albums such as Appalachian Journey, Perpetual Motion, and his extraordinary recording of Bach Cello Suites (on double bass!). Bottesini is another matter, but rest assured you're in for a discovery. Both composers supply a pair of works to the billing here; Meyer plies his bass in each, enlisting two frequent collaborators -- cellist Yo-Yo Ma and violinist Joshua Bell -- to join him for two of them: Ma in Meyer's Double Concerto and Bell in Bottesini's lighthearted showstopper, the Gran Duo Concertante. Filling out the program is Bottesini's B Minor Concerto and Meyer's Concerto in D, both for solo bass and orchestra. Meyer's own compositions could never be mistaken for anything but American, borrowing generously from jazz, the blues, and Appalachian fiddling. Just listen to the melody (if you can call it that) of the opening movement of the Double Concerto (1995), which evokes a blues guitar riff, or try the last movement of the Concerto in D (1993), which might best be described as a psychedelic hoedown. Still, the orchestral writing is lush, with hints of Bartók every now and again. Bottesini's music, however, comes from a very different tradition. Grand, broadly melodic, and instantly appealing, it wears its insouciance on its sleeve. The B Minor Concerto is a dazzling virtuoso display for the bass, but the Gran Duo is the real winner: Technical fireworks mingle with music of simple charm and operatic lyricism, and Meyer and Bell pull it off with all the effortless delight one could hope for.
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