Tuesday, 1 September 2015

Niek de Groot and Catherine Klipfel give winning performances of works for double bass and piano by Brahms, Gubaidulina, Hindemith and Vasks on a new release from Nimbus

Niek de Groot www.niekdegroot.nl is a leading classical double-bassist.  In 2010 he found the supreme instrument to give voice to his style, an Amati double bass made in Cremona, 1680, the only remaining double bass from that era.

Following his formal studies Niek de Groot further developed his skills at the Canadian Banff Centre for the Arts. In addition he gained inspiration in attending master classes especially with cellists Frans Helmerson, Lluìs Claret and Laurence Lesser and in close collaborations with Leonard Bernstein, Mstislav Rostropovich, Vladimir Mendelsohn and György Sebök. 

Until 2006 he held principal solo-bass positions in many ensembles throughout Europe, including a ten year tenure as first solo-bass with the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.  Since then he has dedicated his career to chamber music and solo-performances and plays the Amati to a growing worldwide audience.  Working closely with modern composers such as Kurtàg and Stockhausen, he has contributed to the development of new and contemporary double-bass repertoire.

From 1996 Niek de Groot has been teaching as a senior professor at the Folkwang University of Arts in Essen, Germany. He teaches master classes regularly, with many of his students currently holding positions in Europe's finest orchestras.

Now for Nimbus www.wyastone.co.uk/all-labels/nimbus/nimbus-alliance.html  he has recorded a disc of sonatas by Sofia Gubaidulina, Paul Hindemith and Pēteris Vasks coupled with his own arrangement of Brahms’ Sonata for piano and cello in E minor, op.38.

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He is joined on this new release by pianist Catherine Klipfel, herself a member of the award winning Morgenstern Trio www.morgensterntrio.com/index.php performing at such venues as Carnegie Hall, the Kennedy Center, Royal Concertgebouw, Musikverein and Konzerthaus Vienna, Essen, Berlin and Cologne.

Niek de Groot’s Amati double bass brings a rich deep mahogany tone as the Allegro non Troppo of Johannes Brahms’ Sonata for piano and cello in E minor, op.38 opens, rising to a lovely singing tone. Both de Groot and Catherine Klipfel rise to some very fine moments of passion, nothing at all lost in this fine transcription. There are some very fine deep resonances combining all of Brahms’ passion and agility to moments of deep rich sonority. de Groot reveals the upper register of his double bass to have a beautiful heart rending intensity. This is no mere novelty but a truly passionate performance. de Groot and Klipfel make a fine duo with terrific ensemble and moments of great passion, terrific articulation.

The Allegretto quasi Menuetto – Trio is remarkably light and agile with de Groot seemingly gliding over any obstacles, effortlessly. Klipfel brings some fine fluent playing alongside lovely double bass textures.

There is terrific interplay between double bass and piano in the Allegro; both these artists bringing a real fire to this movement, a stormy forward thrust, quite a tour de force as they hurtle to the coda.

This is a remarkable performance showing terrific technique and musicianship.

The Russian composer, Sofia Gubaidulina (b.1931) www.boosey.com/composer/Sofia+Gubaidulina wrote her Sonata for double bass and piano in 1975. She utilises all of the rich lower register of the double bass in the slow opening that weaves a mournful melody as the piano adds little dissonant chords. The double bass brings some effective pizzicato effects, sliding the pitch upwards and downwards as the piano gently picks up on this, both players working in conjunction and opposite each other. The double bass brings some stunning effects, de Groot displaying his terrific technique. Eventually the piano brings a gentle longer theme to accompany the double bass’ gymnastics before the bass continues alone. The piano returns with its longer breathed theme but the double bass becomes more agitated with de Groot digging deep into the strings. The piano returns with a quiet, meandering, gentle theme as little taps are heard, heralding a return of the double bass with deep growling phrases. The tapping is picked up by repeated piano notes before the music fades to silence with just a series of quiet taps.

This is a remarkable work that receives an inspired performance by both these artists.

Paul Hindemith’s (1895-1963) www.hindemith.info/en/life-work/biography Sonata for double bass and piano was written during a holiday in Taos, New Mexico. The Allegretto moves off quickly with a lively theme for double bass and piano, each bringing a freely tonal line, so typically Hindemith. These players bring a very fine rhythmic lilt with some lovely little quieter moments before skipping to the end. There is a terrific, agile Scherzo with some very fine fast piano phrases from Klipfel and a lovely little coda before the Molto adagio – Recitativo – Lied where the double bass brings a yearning, rich melody, pointed up by piano phrases with de Groot displaying the rich melodic textures of his instrument to the full. There are some very fine flowing passages before a torrent of cascading phrases from the piano is reflected by the double-bass with de Groot showing more terrific agility. After a gently rhythmic section, a gentle slow passage arrives before the music picks up to move to the buoyant coda.

This sonata is revealed as a richly rewarding work that is well work hearing.

As a double bass player the Latvian composer, Pēteris Vasks (b.1946) www.schott-music.com/shop/persons/featured/peteris-vasks has an intimate knowledge of his instrument. His Sonata for solo double bass was written in 1986 and is in four movements. The Monologo opens with hushed double-bass pizzicato phrases low in the register which run quickly upwards before the bow adds a rich, powerful line between pizzicato phrases. Soon the bowed double-bass brings a fuller melody around which pizzicato runs still occur, becoming increasingly passionate before falling back, with ruminating pizzicato phrases and leading into the Fantasia. The double-bass brings some strange little shifting phrases, varying in texture with deep resonating pizzicato phrases. Slowly the music tries to develop into a longer rich melody but the unusual effects continue, becoming more dynamic and dramatic at times.

The Toccata brings some dramatically bowed phrases played with incredible accuracy, panache and assurance. This is a brilliantly aggressive, dynamic toccata in which de Groot extracts some wonderful timbres and textures from his instrument. The music eventually rises to a moment of anguish high in the register as the coda arrives. The Melodia brings a fine melody that one feels has been trying to emerge throughout this work, a melody that is anguished and passionate. It rises up yet soon falls, becoming rather solemn before de Groot vocalises against a deep instrumental line that brings about the coda. This is a terrific movement to end a fine work.

Niek de Groot and Catherine Klipfel give winning performances of all of these works, de Groot bringing an especially musical tone to every register of his lovely instrument. 

The excellent recording handles the lower textures of the double bass extremely well and there are excellent booklet notes from de Groot.

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