10 September 2020
"A cheerful summation of Bottesini’s career, it’s basically a miniature Italian opera, with two faintly unlikely impersonators of the soprano and tenor – a pair of double basses."
‘How he bewildered us’, wrote a listener. Giovanni Bottesini played ‘as though he had a hundred nightingales caged in his double-bass!’ Double bass soloists were rare then as now. But contemporary reports are unanimous in their praise for Bottesini’s ‘consummate grace and finish, his fatal precision, his heavenly tone, his fine taste’.
Bottesini was 13 when he applied to attend the Milan Conservatory. The only scholarships available were for bassoon or double bass. He had never played either, but a few weeks later he’d mastered the latter and earned the bursary. His spectacular public début five years later was the start of his fame as ‘the Paganini of the double bass’.
Yet this was only one strand of a career that took him to Havana, Buenos Aires, New York, Mexico, London, and all over Europe. He was a highly respected music director at several opera houses and conducted the première of Verdi’s Aïda. They were old friends, but Verdi would never have entrusted his work to anyone but a top professional. And Bottesini was himself no slouch as a composer. His dozen or so operas include subjects like Christopher Columbus and Ali Baba. Particularly intriguing is a piece called The Queen of Nepal.
Intriguing, because today these works are forgotten: Bottesini is remembered for his staggering virtuosity and for the showpieces he composed to display it. The Passione Amorosa is one of them, probably composed while he was still at the Milan Conservatory. (His record-keeping was never strong. In fact, the original piano accompaniment has disappeared, and Alex and Kees play a reconstruction.) A cheerful summation of Bottesini’s career, it’s basically a miniature Italian opera, with two faintly unlikely impersonators of the soprano and tenor – a pair of double basses.
Copyright © Alastair McKean 2020. All rights reserved.
Filmed with the support of our partners at City Recital Hall