When it comes to recitals for strings, the odd man out is the double bass. It was a welcome chance to hear a concert focusing on this neglected instrument when North Carolina Symphony principal double bassist Leonid Finkelshteyn, joined by pianist Anatoly Larkin, gave their rescheduled recital at Carol Woods Retirement Community's Assembly Hall. Besides an overview of the history and great performers of the instrument, it offered a piano reduction of Concerto for Double Bass and Strings by Terry Mizesko which will receive its world premiere with the North Carolina Symphony in three concerts this February.
Finkelshteyn began with a few observations about the double bass. It is the youngest and still evolving member of the violin family. It is the least standardized; some bass backs are flat while others are curved. Some have three strings, some four strings, and some have five. They can differ in having sharp or rounded edges. Finkelshteyn's instrument has four strings with an extension instead of a fifth string.
Finkelshteyn followed this by playing brief excerpts of movements from a survey of his favorite concertos for the instrument, all famous virtuosos on the bass. Two were contemporaries of Mozart. Samples from the first two movements of the Double Bass Concerto of Karl Ditters von Dittersdorf (1739-99) came first. More evolved writing was evident in an excerpt from the Double Bass Concerto by Johann Baptist Vanhal (1739-1813). Next came samples from movements 1 and 2 of the Double Concerto in G, Op. 1, by Domenico Dragonetti (1763-1846).
Finkelshtetn played all of these excerpts with a total mastery of the wide range of increasingly complex string techniques, flawless intonation, refined dynamic control, and rich, warm tone with a full, dark low range.*
At this point Finkelshteyn introduced one of his students, Tim Rinehart, to play the entire first movement of the Dragonetti. Rinehardt is a student at Chapel Hill High School and a member of the Duke String School. On March 4 he will play this first movement with the Duke String School Youth Orchestra in Baldwin Auditoriun. He played his selection from memory and with confident control of his instrument, good intonation, and warm tone. Finkelshteyn said that he wished he had been able to play that well at age fifteen!
Finkelshteyn continued his survey with excerpts from Double Bass Concerto No. 2 by Giovanni Bottesini (1821-89). Serge Koussevitzky (1874-1951), besides being a great conductor and seminal commissioner of masterworks, was a great bass virtuoso. His Op.3 concerto was sampled next. Last came the concerto of the Estonian composer Eduard Tubin (1905-82).
The preview of the Concerto for Double Bass and Strings by Mizesko (b. 1946) was preceded by comments and movement descriptions by the composer. He had sought to exploit the virtuosity and musicianship of Finkelshteyn by studying his solo playing and closely consulting with him on what portions of the bass' range would best penetrate through an orchestra. The composer said his music was tuneful, had a simplified harmonic language, and made use of older musical forms.
The concerto is in four movements. The first is in sonata form with a second theme having a Yiddish rhythm. He said he saw the "bass as the foundation of the orchestra." He ingeniously composed a Romanza for the bass WITHIN a relentless satirical march like those fascist ones used so effectively by Shostakovich. The third movement scherzo has a Mahler-like jauntiness with jazz elements such as sharp ninth chords. An extended cadenza for the double bass precedes the final movement which features two dances with a Slavic flavor. It has some fine legato scoring for the soloist.
My initial impression was Mizesko's concerto is one of the longer works for the instrument, and it abounds with plenty of musical interest for the listener plus fine opportunities for technical display by the soloist.
Mizesko's Double Bass Concerto will be performed February 1 in Lee Auditorium in Southern Pines, February 2, noon, in Meymandi Concert Hall in Raleigh, and February 3 in Riverfront Convention Center in Wilmington, NC. See our calendar for details.