|Robert Black, bass
John McDonald, piano
In the twentieth century, a series of instruments and ensembles have found their repertoire expanding exponentially, and their place on the classical stage suddenly front and center, instead of accompanying from the wings. The contrabass and viola were the last of the string instruments to make the leap to this prominence, and Robert Black’s recital on these discs shows the remarkable emergence of the former as a leading voice for the most intimate and imaginative musings of American composers from the last century. Black’s program falls into two parts. Disc 1 features music for bass and piano, Disc 2 the instrument unaccompanied. It also breaks down chronologically, with the former works largely earlier and more traditional in character, the latter later and more experimental/avant-garde. The works for accompanied bass show the first step taken toward instrumental “equality”: it becomes a lyric partner with the piano like any other string instrument. Composers come to realize that the exceptional range of the instrument, combined with its rich and differing timbres from one register to another, make it uniquely expressive. And the bass’s importance in jazz is mirrored in a new interest in active rhythms and pizzicato textures. When we move to the unaccompanied works, a new conception of the bass emerges. In the postwar years, a series of factors combined to create a new instrumental practice, one combining elements of theatricality, a concentration of unusual sounds and techniques, and extreme virtuosity.