February 10, 2011


Dittersdorf: Violone Concerto No. 1; Hoffmeister: Violone Concerto No. 1; Vanhal: Concerto for Double Bass and Orchestra. Edicson Ruiz, double bass; Orquesta Sinfónica Simón Bolívar conducted by Christian Vásqez. Klassik aus Berlin. $18.99.

Georg Abraham Schneider: Duo for Violin and Viola, Op. 44/1; Flute Quartet, Op. 69/3; Ten Duos for Two Doubles Basses; Flute Quartet, Op. 52/3. Aline Champion and Gabriel Adorján, violins; Walter Küssner, viola; András Adorján, flute; David Adorján, cello; Klaus Stoll and Eric Ruiz, double basses. Klassik aus Berlin. $18.99.

Giorgio Federico Ghedini: Complete Piano Music, Volume 2—Sonatina in D; Puerilia; Sonata in A-flat; Fantasia; Divertimento contrappuntistico; Capriccio; Ricercare super “Sicut cervus desiderat ad fontes aquarum”; Allegretto. Massimo Giuseppe Bianchi, piano. Naxos. $8.99.

     The rediscovery of obscure composers and/or of little-known music by reasonably familiar ones has tremendously widened the availability of interesting works for listeners to recorded media, if not necessarily for concertgoers. This rediscovery often turns up in unexpected places: South America unearthing forgotten Classical-era European composers, for example. This is not to say that Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf, Franz Anton Hoffmeister and Johann Baptist Vanhal are entirely unknown; in fact, they are reasonably famous for some of their works. But their concertos for the violone and double bass are decidedly not among them. The violone – which could indeed resemble a modern double bass, or a modern cello, or neither of the above, and confusingly came in various tunings and numbers of strings as well – had been supplanted by the modern double bass by the start of the Romantic era, but it was a very important continuo instrument and occasional star of concertos for hundreds of years until then. Edicson Ruiz and Christian Vásqez, products of Venezuela’s famous “El Sistema,” bring tremendous élan and a sure sense of style to these 18th-century works, with Ruiz playing a four-stringed instrument that partakes of the sound of a modern double bass but uses the scordatura tuning often employed in violones to enhance their sound. There is very considerable virtuosity required in all three of these concertos, particularly the one by Vanhal, which is the only one originally written for something approximating a modern double bass. Nothing here is at the level that would later be attained by the works of famed 19th-century double-bass virtuoso Giovanni Bottesini, but all these finely constructed, elegantly polished works show that the bassist (or violonist) was expected in the 18th century to perform at a level just as high as those of other first-tier players.

     Unlike Dittersdorf, Hoffmeister and Vanhal, Georg Abraham Schneider (1770-1839) is an almost wholly unknown name, so the new CD of his works – in which one player is, again, Edicson Ruiz – represents a rediscovery not only of the music but also of the composer. And it is a slightly odd rediscovery, since Schneider, to the extent that he is known at all, is identified with the horn: he was one of the earliest composers for the then-new valved instrument, even combining it at times with the older natural horn and demanding considerable skill from the players of both. There is, however, none of his horn music here; instead, there are chamber works of various types, all of them poised and elegantly balanced, and harmonized in the 18th-century manner although written in the early 19th. The first of three violin-viola duos from Schneider’s Op. 44 treats the instruments equally and allows both players to exploit their instruments’ sonorities as well as their virtuoso capabilities. The third of the three Op. 69 flute quartets nicely blends the wind instrument with the strings and, despite its key of G minor, does not delve deeply into emotional territory, while the third from Op. 52 (in G major) is brighter and has more bounce. And the double-bass duos give the players many chances to show just how much variety of sound and how many nuances they can bring forward from their instruments. All the playing here is first-rate, and the music, if not of the first water, is always well constructed and lies quite well on the various instruments. A revival of some of Schneider’s horn music would likely be very worthwhile indeed, perhaps starting with his 1818 concerto for four horns and orchestra, which predates Schumann’s supposedly trailblazing Konzertstück for Four Horns and Orchestra by more than 30 years!

     It is not only composers of the 18th and 19th centuries who are worthy of rediscovery – so are some from the 20th. Or perhaps in their case it is more a matter of discovering them for the first time. That would seem to be true of Giorgio Federico Ghedini (1892-1965). A lover of older music, Ghedini went beyond his contemporary countryman Respighi’s fascination (shown in the Ancient Airs and Dances, among other works) to transcribe pieces by Monteverdi, Frescobaldi and others, and to create works of his own based on older music but imbued with the rhythmic and harmonic conventions of his time – often handled in very personal ways. Ghedini also wrote music with significant emotional underpinnings, and often of considerable complexity. His most extended work for solo piano, the Sonata in A-flat (1922), is highly coloristic and rhythmically complex; it is a highlight of Massimo Giuseppe Bianchi’s fine performances on a new Naxos CD. And it stands in striking contrast to the Ricercare that Ghedini started writing during World War II, in 1943, and revised in 1956 – this is a spare, even dry work whose very leanness seems expressive of despair. The remaining pieces here show a composer of very considerable range, with the Puerilia of 1922 (“four little pieces based on five notes”) at one end and the considerable virtuosity of the Fantasia (1927), Divertimento contrappuntistico (1940) and Capriccio (1943) at the other. The early Sonatina (1913) and late Allegretto (1957) are the CD’s opening and closing works, respectively, and make effective bookends for a pianistic odyssey that is very much worth taking, for all that neither the works nor the man who composed them will be familiar to more than a handful of listeners.

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