The Deep End

The Deep End

Music for Cello and Double Bass

Friday 8 April 2016, Adam Concert Room, Lunchtime Concert

Te Kōkī New Zealand School of Music, Victoria University Wellington

A personal opinion from Stephen Gibbs

Inbal Megiddo – cello;
Paul Altomari – double bass

Hymn II for cello and double bass (1974) – Alfred Schnittke (1934-1998);
Altomari (2011) – world premiere – Joseph Eidson (b. 1981);
Suite No. 1 in G Major BWV 1007 – J S Bach (1685-1750)
Duetto in D Major for cello and bass – Gioachino Rossini (1792-1868)
Souvenirs de Bellini – Julius Goltermann (1685-1750)

In his notes, Paul suggested that the works on the programme were ordered by a metaphor:  a swimming pool, starting with ‘the deep end’ and meandering up to the shallows. It was an amusing notion, but surely facetious, because all of the works were extraordinary, ambitious and masterfully performed. Certainly the mood was lightened with each successive piece, but the audience had a masterclass of bass sonorities, string techniques and brilliant playing.

The first two pieces were intense. Schnittke’s Hymn II was a solemn, brooding piece and the range of each of the instruments were extended by the use of harmonics and techniques such as plucking from the left hand when bowing with the right. With flashes of passionate outbursts, Inbal’s cello sang, accompanied by bass double stops. Altomari was commissioned by Paul’s parents (Inbal’s parent -in-law) and this was the world premiere performance. Each of the instruments had their solo spots, and at times the tessitura of the bass was placed above the cello. Unfortunately, there was a balance issue there. The bass melody was somewhat muted, and the cello’s ringing tones were more descant rather an accompaniment. As the piece progressed, the bass employed a funky, syncopated riff, with the cello rising to the challenge with a jazzy melody.

Inbal delighted us with a Bach cello solo – Suite No.1 in G Major. Inbal rendition was more Romantic with lots of rubato. She left out most of the repeats – time constraints, I guess – and I missed them particularly in the Sarabande, but thankfully she preserved them in the Minuets. Her intonation and the phrasing was exemplary. I have played this piece many times, and listened to it many times: Pablo Casals, Jacqueline du Pré, Mstislav Rostropovich, Yo Yo Ma…  And not all on the cello! Suite No.1 in G Major for viola, viola da gamba, trombone, guitar, voice, koto, moog, marimba orchestra…  Sometimes it works, sometime it only ho-hum – but that is the genius of Bach.

As I said, the mood was lightened, but the energy of the music was not! The three movements from Rossini’s Duetto were executed at breakneck speed – even the andante molto had rapid semiquavers accompanying the arioso-melodies. This work and the Goltermann’s Souvenirs de Bellini were delightful, brimming with gorgeous melodies and quirky rhythms. In the latter piece, the bass had an ‘omm-chug-chug’ motiff that could be a soundtrack of a Keystone Cops silent movie!  Clearly the composers were having fun and their sense of humour showed. At the coda of each piece,  the cascade of notes ceased for a moment – a hiatus. The busyness and the earnestness of their playing was interrupted and Paul and Inbal looked at each other. It was almost like a ‘Basil Fawlty [John Cleese]’ moment! Then a sniff, and they continued to the cadence. Fun!

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