Travels with Goliath: Works by Hoffmeister, Sperger, Vanhal & Mozart

Grigory Krotenko, 
Ilya Mazurov; Barocco Concertato/Maria Krestinskaya (Rubicon)

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Travels with Goliath: In the footsteps of Josef Kämpfer
Works by Hoffmeister, Sperger, Vanhal and Mozart
Grigory Krotenko (double bass), Ilya Mazurov (baritone); Barocco Concertato/Maria Krestinskaya
Rubicon RCD1023 57:57 mins

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For many years, the classical string bass was thought ill-suited to soloistic endeavour, unless playing ‘character’ roles. Yet, thanks in no small part to Josef Kämpfer, a self-taught, itinerant virtuoso bassist active mostly during the 18th century, the double bass became for a while a solo instrument almost on a par with the cello. Kämpfer met and inspired many composers, which is the starting point for this fine, well-engineered collection. Franz Hoffmeister’s and Johann Vanhal’s respective double bass concertos are captivating charmers that give Grigory Krotenko ample opportunity to flex his virtuoso muscles, yet in no way patronises the instrument or plays to its enhanced lower range. Indeed, there is an imperative sparkle about this music that would grace many a violin concerto of the period, and a chamber sensitivity about Russian period-instrument ensemble Barocco Concertato’s playing that matches precisely the solo bass’s gentle projection.

Conductor Maria Krestinskaya joins Krotenko in Johann Sperger’s Sonata for double bass and viola d’amore, another Classical delight whose tendency (unsurprisingly) to focus on the alto and tenor registers imparts a mellow soundworld not normally associated with music of this period. To finish, one of Mozart’s late concert arias – Per questa bella mano, K612 – sung with velvet-toned affection by baritone Ilya Mazurov and featuring a fizzing part for obbligato double bass, thrown off effortlessly by Krotenko, who takes every high-velocity roulade in his stride.

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Julian Haylock