As serious music has become both more ardent and more accommodating over the past few decades, so has the definition of what constitutes a musical group or which instrument is appropriate for a solo session. One of the instruments that benefitted the most from this liberal attitude is the double bass. Freed from its singular function as a timekeeper in jazz or to suggest rumbling menace in so-called classical music, it has become the object of new experiments.

Waxman 01 RotationsSolo bass recitals are no longer the novelty they once were, but some four-string explorers go even further, creating situations where multi basses play together. Take for instance Rotations (Evil Rabbit Records ERR21 Operating as Sequoia, four double bass players – two Germans, one Italian and a Canadian, all based in Berlin – come up with eight-tracks that irrefutably demonstrate the qualities of a program based entirely on what can be created with acoustic bass. Acoustic sometimes has to be emphasized, because when Germans Meinrad Kneer and Klaus Kürvers, Italian Antonio Borghini and Canadian Miles Perkin fuse swabbed impulses on a track such as Lifts and Escalators the results resemble those created by electronic instruments. A block of coursing low-pitched tones, this sonic chiaroscuro still reveals separate timbre strata. Shaking and bouncing the tune reaches a crescendo of spinning attachments then downturns. Overall, interspaced with concise instances of jazz-like thumping, the CD exhibits all sorts of bass desires: staccato and languid, stentorian and shrill. The almost 16-minute Rotations for example isolates an assortment of expositions. While one bass duo creates a droning ostinato, another two make the upper reaches of their strings chirp and whistle. Interacting with tremolo slices, the final sound-image is that of a lively chicken coop with each fowl contributing distinctive notes. A similar divide exists on the final Passing By. Except here individual aggressive thrusts are layered from altissimo to basso, exhibiting mesmerizing strength within a mid-section of shrieking spiccato; and climaxing with a display of stentorian power that makes the 1812 Overture seem like a mild exposition.

Waxman 02 ZwirnRather than halving the number and breadth of sounds they produce with only two bull fiddles, Swiss duo Peter K. Frey and Daniel Studer range through expanded narratives on Zwirn: Live in München (Creative Sources CS 239 CD Less bellicose than Sequoia’s frequently all-out attack, the two employ scordatura, retuning and detuning to create timbres that often sound less string sourced than horn resembling. This is particularly apparent during the first measures of Eins Punkt Zwei. Until a clear string pluck resonates, it sounds as if a reed duet is in progress. Although not shying away from decorating their interface with mellow tones and sparkling peeps, toughness isn’t neglected either. The concluding Drei subsides after mandolin-pitched strums; upwards-moving string tweaks and almost visual sparks fly between the two on Zwei Punkt Zwei; and there are sections of the introductory Eins Punkt Eins where it appears as if the two are not only creating novel rhythms by twisting strings near their instruments’ scrolls, but sounding as if they’re ripping apart the bass wood as they play. Zwei Punkt Eins is the track most illustrative of the relationship. Climaxing with a series of spiccato runs that eventually relax into a peaceful conclusion, intense excitement is first built up by combining scrubbed lowing, aviary-like chirps and string recoils.

Waxman 03 NogetMore linear, but just as inventive, Denmark’s Nils Davidsen fashions11 multi-textural solos utilizing a single gong plus two or three basses on some tracks. Although the multiple-bass narratives on Noget at glæde sig til (ILK Music 217 CD may be overdubbed there’s no hint of artificiality. Blending upper register timbres with a reed player’s facility, for instance, Davidsen turns the three-bass Extraterrestrial Breakfast into a piquant repast of sharp and sour resonations. Creating a rhythmic continuum by vibrating the gong-like cymbal, the two-bass M/S Kissavik smartly concludes as arco and pizzicato lines harmonize. As for the two brief tracks featuring a single bass and a gong the sonorous gamelan-like vibrations provide unique accompaniment to relaxed pulsing. It’s not that additional instruments are needed either. Just Turn Green for example demonstrates Davidsen’s arpeggio-rich, guitar-like facility, while Woody unsurprisingly highlights tones that remain charming while sourced from the bass’ mid-range and much lower. Finally the bassist’s skillful proficiency with four strings allows him to negotiate the interlocking sequences that make up Osiris in 4 Parts. Slipping from melancholy spiccato, rugged double-stopping and melodic sprightliness, his fervor leads to sul tasto bowing concluding the piece with a beefed-up sonic landscape. The CD title translates as “something to look forward to,” which is awkward grammatically but musically apt.

Waxman 04 GulletAnother Danish, but Berlin-based, bull fiddler, Adam Pultz Melbye uses Gullet’s nine tracks (Barefoot Records BFREC032CD to showcase his skills with only one double bass, one bow plus a stick placed horizontally among the strings. More a deft colourist than someone swabbing gouts of paint onto a musical canvas, with angled string-darting and mid-range rubs he creates gamelan-like peals and flute peeps. At the same time, comparing tracks such as Attempts at Relevance and Zossener credibly demonstrate how power can be present as much when microscopic bow pulls lead to splintered tones as with off-centre yet tough col legno pushes. Taken as a whole, Melbye’s arco and pizzicato facility on these tracks is reminiscent of that of a writer who has mastered the short story. Perhaps however his next exercise should involve extended tale-telling.

Waxman 05 St JamesOne double bassist unfazed by lengthy improvisations is Paris’ Benjamin Duboc. His St. James Infirmary CD (Improvising Beings ib22, consists of only two tracks, both more than 20 minutes apiece: the title tune and Saint-Martin. Each delineates one side of his mercurial talent. St. James Infirmary Blues is a deconstruction and reassembling of the folk-blues classic. Sonorous and diffident, his unhurried bumps, crunches and resonations, shake out unique variations on the theme until corrosive string stops break through the coconut shell of variations to expose the flesh of the familiar melody. The resulting sequence matches poignancy and power. Saint-Martin is even more challenging. Separating motifs through interludes of staccato whistles and strident buzzes, perhaps the result of unique tuning, his multiphonic exposition can be as thick as that expressed by all four bassists in Sequoia. His elaboration of assorted pitches from widely separated parts of his string set make it appear as if more than one bassist is at work. Exhibiting a mastery of col legno smacks, his stentorian pacing showcases unique string textures which are subsequently pierced with dagger-sharp thrusts. Buzzing drones finally make common cause with sul ponticello shrills for a finale of satisfaction and relief.

On their own or in multiples, the double bassists here confirm that any expression of bass desires is only limited by a player`s imagination.

Vancouver’s jazz scenes are well documented by some of the country’s most active labels, with Cellar Live ( devoted to what might be called “traditional modern” and Songlines ( covering more recent stylistic evolutions. Among the recent releases are a few of Vancouver’s outstanding guitarists and some dynamic crossovers of Canadian and American musicians.

Broomer 01 Easy SailingOliver Gannon has been a mainstay of the Vancouver scene for over 40 years, but he has rarely recorded as sole leader, favouring partnerships like one with the late saxophonist Fraser MacPherson. Easy Sailing (Cellar Live CL 120913) celebrates the kind of joyous swing that Gannon can create. His style is forged in the jazz of the 50s and 60s and he retains some of the markers of Wes Montgomery’s influence, like a fondness for playing in octaves and touches of the blues everywhere. The music moves along with a warm energy as Gannon plays through a program made up mostly of standards, still finding plenty of inspiration in tunes like Ellington’s Prelude to a Kiss or Harold Arlen’s Come Rain or Come Shine. He’s ably accompanied by pianist Miles Black, bassist Jodi Proznick and drummer Blane Wikjord.

Broomer 02 TrilogyVancouver’s other mainstream guitarist of note is Bill Coon; in fact, the two have worked together as Two Much Guitar. One might expect Triology (Cellar Live CL 062113) to emphasize the resemblance, with the presence of Miles Black and Jodi Proznick, but the feel of the music is very different. Coon’s sound is more distinctly electric than Gannon’s, with a shimmering, glassy quality whether he’s creating a lyrical reverie on Proznick’s L’Espace or running rapid scalar figures on Black’s aptly named Morocco. What really distinguishes this from the Gannon quartet is its rhythmic momentum. While Gannon’s music has the slightly fractured quality of hard bop, Triology resembles the smooth, headlong swing of the early Oscar Peterson trios with guitar and foregrounded bass. The resemblance is exaggerated by the opening track, Ray Time, a Black original dedicated to Ray Brown, Peterson’s longtime bassist, but the sense of Peterson-inspired excess figures frequently here, as in the pile-up of the concluding I Got Rhythm.

Broomer 03 Cory WeedsSaxophonist Cory Weeds, founder of Cellar Live, has long paired the label with his recently closed Cellar Jazz Club, often matching local and international soloists and rhythm sections. As of Now (Cellar Live CL 100313) presents Weeds in the company of a superb New York-based trio made up of pianist Harold Mabern, bassist John Webber and drummer Joe Farnsworth, one of the last groups to appear at the Cellar before its closure in February. The three are masters of the kind of crisp interplay that’s at once precise, relaxed, authoritative and aggressive, and they clearly inspire Weeds, whose work is rooted in that of stylists like Hank Mobley and Stanley Turrentine. The 77-year-old Mabern is as vital as ever, combining Memphis blues roots, subtle chord voicings and sudden, invigorating, percussive splashes. As well as playing great piano, Mabern also contributes the best original compositions, including Edward Lee, a composition he recorded in duet with Toronto bassist Kieran Overs in 1992 on another cross- border excursion Philadelphia Bound (released on the Sackville label and well worth seeking out).

Vancouver has long been a site for some of the most creative cross-pollination in jazz, reaching back to the classic 1959 recording Kenneth Patchen Reads with Jazz in Canada, the American poet accompanied by the quartet of pianist Al Neil, the firebrand of Canadian jazz surrealism. Tony Reif’s Songlines label has been active since 1992, documenting the frontiers of jazz both internationally and locally, often documenting meetings between Vancouver-based musicians and international collaborators. It’s a frequent Vancouver practice: Ken Pickering, Artistic Director of the Vancouver International Jazz Festival, has used the approach to develop the most creative large-scale festival in the country. At Songlines, for example, clarinetist François Houle has created a substantial body of work, much of which consists of on-going partnerships with European and American musicians.

Broomer 04 No DifferenceAnother musician pursuing the same opportunity with the label is guitarist Gordon Grdina, whose recordings have benefitted from the participation of major American figures like bassist Gary Peacock. Grdina’s work is exploratory, experimental, seemingly driven outward and inward, forward and back simultaneously, whether he’s exploring free improvisation or traditional Arabic music. It’s apparent in his integration of the Arabic lute, the oud and bowed guitar in his performances. No Difference (Songlines SCL 1603-2) presents recordings from New York and New Jersey, with Grdina’s regular drummer Kenton Loewen and two outstanding New Yorkers. Tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby is a galvanizing presence, but Grdina forms an especially strong bond with Mark Helias, whose bass lines work hand-in-glove with Grdina’s improvisations. The bouncing free-bop of Visceral Voices is particularly memorable.

Broomer 05 Golden StateAnother example of Songlines’ creative openness is composer/percussionist Harris Eisenstadt’s Golden State (Songlines SCL 1602-2). The Toronto-born Eisenstadt spent a 2012 residency at CalArts in Valencia where he created the ensemble Golden State with his wife bassoonist Sara Schoenbeck, flutist Nicole Mitchell and bassist Mark Dresser. The music is every bit as surprising as you might expect from that unusual instrumentation. Eisenstadt has studied African music extensively, as well as working with European and American idioms, and the choice of voices facilitates everything from the aggressive rhythmic introduction of What Is a Straw Horse, Anyway? to the almost medieval sound of It Is Never Safe to Be and the Schoenberg-like chamber textures of Flabbergasted by the Unconventional, in which Dresser’s cello-register bowed bass complements the winds. Don’t let the instruments fool you: Mitchell is among the most creatively aggressive of jazz flutists and Schoenbeck’s rapid-fire improvisations bring saxophone fluency to the bassoon. 


Whose Shadow?
05 Jazz 01 Lara SolnickiLara Solnicki
Independent LSMCD002 (

Toronto singer Lara Solnicki has released a second CD that is a bit of a departure from her first, which was largely made up of standards. Eclectic and artful, Whose Shadow? is still mostly covers, but Solnicki has chosen more modern and unusual songs, and, along with producer and bass player George Koller, has interpreted them in interesting ways. That along with Solnicki’s classical training makes this a refreshing departure from more traditional vocal jazz albums. Her delicate, high voice is a natural for songs such as Kate Bush’s Sunset and Joni Mitchell’s Shades of Scarlett Conquering. The combination of a lightly swinging groove from the rhythm section (jazz stalwarts such as Ted Quinlan on guitar, Mark Kieswetter on piano, Nick Fraser on drums and Davide DiRenzo on percussion) and Solnicki’s straight treatment of the melody on Purcell’s Music for a While is surprising and successful. Freedom Dance harkens back to 70s smooth jazz complete with wind chimes. Overall, the effect of the album is dreamy, contemplative and pleasant.

05 Jazz 02 PaulBleyCDPlay Blue
Paul Bley
ECM 2373

Aged 81 and ailing, the likelihood of Canadian expatriate pianist Paul Bley giving (m)any more concerts is limited. But this newly issued 2008 live performance from Oslo easily confirms why the unique style he developed in the early 1960s has influenced many pianists including Keith Jarrett.

Except for Sonny Rollins’ Pent-Up House, which Bley performs in response to vociferous demands for an encore from the audience – and to which he appends some so-called classical trope to the boppish line – all the compositions are his. Given enough time to develop, each is, for all intents and purposes, a suite, which brings in many allusions. Deceptively lyrical as well as maintaining a blues sensibility, Flame’s ringing key strokes suggest nightclub ballads like My Way, but with a cleaner interface. The dramatic Longer is crowded with chords and arpeggiated runs that would be as didactic as an Art Tatum performance if Bley didn’t slyly insert what sounds like a lick from Arrivederci Roma midway through.

Bravura, but without bravado, Bley defines his art on Far North and Way Down South Suite. Starting off in a nervy gallop, he first cycles through passing chords and glances at the American Songbook before settling into an impressionistic melody that by the finale vibrates basso, bop-like textures from the soundboard. Sharp and intense, the titled Suite piles strident glissandi and blues allusions into an exposition, then after a theatrical many-seconds pause, first deconstructs the melody then focuses it again with even-handed dynamics. Bley’s piano command is such that without leaving the keys it appears as if he’s violently plucking the instrument’s strings as he plays.

We can hope that more Bley will appear on record. But if this concert recording is his swan song, the unique mixture of skills which made his reputation are definitely and appropriately exhibited on it.


05 Jazz 03 Bunnett MaquequeMaqueque
Jane Bunnett
Justin Time JTR 8586-2

Toronto sax player Jane Bunnett has long immersed herself in Cuban music and many of her award-winning recordings have introduced Cuban musicians to North American audiences by blending Afro-Cuban rhythms with contemporary jazz. Her latest, Jane Bunnett and Maqueque, is no different, as Bunnett ventured to Havana to record with this new all-female group. (“Maqueque” – pronounced Ma-keh-keh – means the spirit of a young girl in an Afro-Cuban dialect.) Voice, flute and soprano sax-laden, the tracks are driven by percussion, as you’d expect. The strings, courtesy of the Annex String Quartet arranged by ex-pat Cuban and piano master Hilario Durán, lend a sense of drama and old-fashioned romance to many of the songs. The recording is not over-produced so has an immediacy and authenticity to it. Singer Dayme Arocena has a particularly strong presence as she wrote three of the songs on the disc – including the lovely Canto a Babba – and has a raw, earthy warmth to her voice. One of the standout tracks is her duet on Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine When She’s Gone sung in English and Spanish which starts out simply and hauntingly accompanied by only tres guitar and congas.

The final cut – Song for Haiti – was originally recorded as a fundraiser for Red Cross relief efforts in that struggling country and has completely different personnel on it, including Cuban rapper Telemary. The clever arrangement is a sophisticated and touching way to close out the disc. Maqueque is touring Canada and the U.S. this year and dates can be found at

Editor’s Note: Four-time JUNO Award-winner, two-time GRAMMY nominee and Officer of the Order of Canada, Jane Bunnett has been chosen as a finalist for the Ontario 2014 Premier’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. The laureates will be announced at an awards ceremony at Roy Thomson Hall on September 16. Bunnett and Maqueque finish up their U.S. tour on September 22 at NYC’s prestigious Blue Note Jazz Club and give a farewell performance at Hugh’s Room in Toronto on September 27, before the band returns to Cuba.


05 Jazz 04 Last HadenLast Dance
Keith Jarrett; Charlie Haden
ECM 2399

Prescient by happenstance, Last Dance had just been released when double bassist Charlie Haden died from the effects of post-polio syndrome at 76 on July 11, 2014. Actually recorded in 2007, this nine-track recital, featuring Haden’s and pianist Keith Jarrett’s reimagining of jazz and American songbook classics, demonstrates only one aspect of the bass master’s skills. His evolutionary recasting of the instrument’s role, defined during his membership in Ornette Coleman’s barrier-breaking quartet, and his political commitment, expressed by his leadership of the aptly named Liberation Music Orchestra, can be researched elsewhere.

Instead Haden and Jarrett, in whose quartet he played from 1967 to 1976, deal here with instantly recognizable melodies in a novel fashion, but subtly enough that familiar underpinnings aren’t neglected. It’s noteworthy, with Jarrett’s reputation for immoderation and showiness, that Haden’s bass work puts the finer point on these re-creations. At times, for instance, when it appears as if the pianist is opting for ponderous readings, dialogue with Haden prods the pianist to open up the tune.

Case in point is when Haden’s rhythmically perfect countermelody adds ballast to Jarrett’s interpretation of Everything Happens to Me. With the pianist now commenting on the chromatic bass line, dancing key strokes become more than decoration. Similarly It Might As Well Be Spring bounces along as a too-familiar show tune until Haden’s plucked reverb exposes the piece’s underlying gravitas, which is maintained even as the head is reprised. Even Dance of the Infidels, the set’s one up-tempo number, benefits from Haden’s ability to suggest a sub-theme while solidly accompanying the pianist’s narrative elaboration.

Poignantly, the bassist’s modest, yet powerful solo on Goodbye, the CD’s concluding track, adds an appropriate finality to the project. Haden’s string exposition creates the proper context for Jarrett’s theme variations. Unwittingly perhaps, Haden exits this session leaving behind a first-class demonstration of one facet of his sizable musical talent.


Robbins 01 Ehnes BartokAfter two volumes of works for violin and piano James Ehnes reaches Volume 3 in his series of Béla Bartók’s Chamber Works for Violin with a CD featuring clarinetist Michael Collins, pianist Andrew Armstrong and violinist Amy Schwartz Moretti (Chandos CHAN 10820). Collins and Armstrong join Ehnes in an excellent performance of Contrasts, the work Bartók wrote for himself, Joseph Szigeti and Benny Goodman in 1938, and Armstrong accompanies Ehnes in the very brief Sonatina, a piano piece from 1915 heard here in a 1925 transcription (approved by Bartók) by André Gertler.

The bulk of the CD, though, is devoted to the 44 Duos for Two Violins from 1931. Bartók had been asked to transcribe some of his short piano pieces from 1908-09, For Children, a collection that had been based in part on some of the folk music he had collected before the First World War. He chose instead to write four books of duets drawing almost exclusively from a wider range of the folk traditions he had encountered at that time. They’re very brief – 28 of them last less than a minute – but anyone who has played them knows that their brevity doesn’t in any way indicate an absence of interest, mood change, variation or depth of invention.

They’re not difficult to play for the most part, although the technical level certainly does rise the deeper into the set you go, so it’s not so much a case of judging the performances here but more one of simply enjoying them. And with Ehnes and Moretti you’re in terrific hands.

Robbins 02 Bartok duosBy pure coincidence, the batch of CDs that included the Ehnes Bartók also included violists Claudine Bigelow and Donald Maurice in Voices from the Past (Tantara TCD0213VFP), a wonderful 2CD set of transcriptions of the 44 Duos for two violas, but with a startling – and quite strikingly emotional – addition: 32 of the original field recordings made by Bartók that supplied the impetus and the basic material for most of the duos, heard here for the first time together on one album.

The first CD has a performance of the 44 Duos with the appropriate field recording preceding the corresponding Bartók duo; the words of the songs, the names of the singers or players, the locations and dates are all included in the excellent booklet notes. The second CD is an uninterrupted performance of the Duos.

Obviously, the sound quality of the field recordings, made on wax cylinders between 1904 and 1916, is understandably quite poor, and no restoration has been attempted here. Some of the recordings are very rough – almost inaudible in places – but the emotional impact of this singing and playing of ordinary people from 100 years or more ago paired with the music they inspired is enormous and not only sheds fascinating light on the nuances of Bartók’s writing but also imparts a sense of nostalgia to the pieces that is heightened by the darker tone of the two violas.

Bigelow and Maurice wisely chose not to use the William Primrose transcription of the work – the only one commercially available, but full of crucial changes Primrose made in an attempt to keep the duos at original pitch – and opted instead to simply transpose the entire set of duos down a fifth, thus retaining their integrity. Some brightness is lost as a result – in The Bagpipe and the final Transylvanian Dance, for instance – but the gain in warmth and depth more than compensates for this.

Listen to the girls collapsing in laughter at the end of their bright, up-tempo song, and then listen to Bartók’s slow, melancholy Prelude & Canon transcription that follows it, simply aching with longing for a rapidly vanishing past. It will forever change the way you hear these remarkable pieces.

Robbins 03 Glenn DicterowGlenn Dicterow has just stepped down after 34 years as concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic, and to mark the event and honour his service the organization has issued The Glenn Dicterow Collection (NYP 20140201), a three-volume selection of Dicterow’s live solo performances with the orchestra between 1982 and 2012. Volume 1 is available as a CD and download; volumes 2 and 3 are available only as downloads from

A beautiful 88-page souvenir booklet comes with the CD, which features superb performances of the Bruch G Minor Concerto, the Bartók Concerto No.1, the Korngold Concerto and the Theme from Schindler’s List, Dicterow getting inside these works quite wonderfully in really outstanding recordings.

Although he started his professional career as a violinist, Paul Hindemith developed an international reputation as a superb viola player from his early 20s. As a composer, the smaller repertoire for the viola no doubt presented an intriguing opportunity for him and he made significant efforts to enlarge it, writing five major works before he turned 30.

Robbins 04 Hindemith TamestitThe outstanding French violist Antoine Tamestit has marked the 50th anniversary of Hindemith’s death last December with Bratsche!, a CD featuring four of the composer’s works for the instrument, (naïve V 5329). Pianist Markus Hadulla is the accompanist for the Sonata Op.11 No.4 from 1919, the earliest of Hindemith’s viola sonatas. The work has a beautiful opening, with a simply lovely melody that sounds tailor-made for Tamestit’s trademark deep, rich tone. There’s a lovely piano presence here as well, with great balance and superb recorded sound quality.

The Sonata Op.25 No.1 for Solo Viola is a relatively short work from 1922, but one which explores the full range of the instrument’s potential. Tamestit’s masterly technique and musical sensitivity are again fully evident.

Hindemith wrote Der Schwanendreher, a concerto for viola and small orchestra, in 1935, and based each movement on a medieval German folk song; the title comes from the song used in the final movement. Interestingly, the string section of the orchestra consists of cellos and basses only, the absence of violins and violas allowing the solo instrument to assume more prominence. The Frankurt Radio Symphony Orchestra under Paavo Järvi joins Tamestit in another terrific performance.

In January 1936 Hindemith travelled to London for a performance of the concerto, but the unexpected death of King George V resulted in the concert being cancelled at two days’ notice. The BBC asked Hindemith to write something suitable that could be broadcast in its place, and provided him with an office for the day; Trauermusik (Mourning Music) for viola and string orchestra was composed in a matter of hours, and performed and broadcast the same evening. The four movements last a little under 8 minutes, but it’s a quite beautiful piece which provides a beautiful ending to an outstanding CD.

Robbins 05 Reinecke Cello ConcertoThe American cellist Michael Samis makes his CD debut with Reinecke: Cello Concerto (Delos DE 3446), a disc that highlights a long-forgotten concerto by the German Romantic composer Carl Reinecke and also includes works by Sir John Tavener, Robert Schumann, Ernest Bloch and Osvaldo Golijov. The Reinecke concerto was written in 1864, and is a lovely, immediately accessible work clearly influenced by Reinecke’s teacher, Felix Mendelssohn. Samis has the necessary big, warm tone, and there is some lovely orchestral support from the Gateway Chamber Orchestra under Gregory Wolynec. Samis considers the work to be “a lost gem that richly deserves a place in the repertoire,” and it’s hard not to agree with him.

Schumann was another of Reinecke’s teachers, and his Adagio and Allegro Op.70 is heard here in an orchestral transcription by the Swiss conductor Ernest Ansermet. Originally written for horn and piano and later arranged by the composer for cello and piano, it’s a lovely, if somewhat inconsequential, piece.

Bloch was nearing the end of his life when he wrote three unaccompanied cello suites in the mid-1950s; the four-movement Suite No.1, which was dedicated to the Canadian cellist Zara Nelsova and is described in the excellent booklet notes as the best known and most accessible of the three, is included here. Samis gets to the heart of Tavener’s Threnos, a short solo piece written in memory of a close friend in 1990. Percussionist Eric Willie joins Samis for the final track, Golijov’s 1999 Mariel, for cello and marimba; it’s another work inspired by the sudden death of a friend.

Samis’ playing throughout is of the highest order, and there is depth, resonance and excellent balance in the recorded sound.

There’s something wonderfully wild and abandoned about true gypsy violin playing – its virtuosity, its pulsating and wildly fluctuating rhythms and tempos, mixed with the almost cluttered background accompaniment of cimbalom, accordion, clarinet and strings, make for an almost-out-of-control feeling of pure spontaneity.

Robbins 06 Santa FerencFor the real thing, you need look no further than Here Comes the Dance, a Hungarian release featuring the multiple award-winning Santa Ferenc Jr. (Hungaroton HCD 10337). Ferenc has been playing this music for 45 years, and is currently the artistic director and leading violinist of the Hungarian National Gypsy Orchestra.

It simply doesn’t get any more authentic, or any better, than this, and there is some simply terrific fiddling here. There’s a great mix of numbers, including a dazzling Czárdás by Monti, and the CD ends with Dinicu’s Pacsirta, a classic gypsy fiddle piece. The whole CD is irresistible, and an absolute blast from beginning to end.

The Brazilian Guitar Quintet has been around for 15 years now, and has made a particular name for itself as specialists in Spanish and Latin American music, winning the 2011 Latin GRAMMY award in the Best Classical Album category.

Robbins 07 Spanish DanceTheir latest CD, Spanish Dances (Delos DE 3466), features a wide selection of works by Manuel de Falla, Enrique Granados, Joaquin Turina, Joaquin Rodrigo, Federico Mompou and Isaac Albéniz, all in outstanding arrangements by quartet member Tadeo do Amaral. The group’s use of two six-string guitars and two eight-string guitars gives a richness and depth to their sound that is perfectly suited to the music on hand here. There is a virtual absence of fingerboard noise, technique to burn in quite dazzling performances and a beautiful quality to the recorded sound, which fully captures the nuances, sonorities and colour of the playing.

The arrangements themselves are quite brilliant, and easily pass the acid test: they sound like original works, and it’s really difficult to imagine them as having been originally written for piano, which all but one were.

Robbins 08 Opus TwoOpus Two, the American duo of violinist William Terwilliger and pianist Andrew Cooperstock, has a new CD of George Gershwin Music for Violin and Piano (Azica ACD-71290). Both players have just the right sound and style for this music, although some of the transcriptions are less successful than others. There are four world premiere recordings here, three of them – the Suite from Girl Crazy, Love Walked In and Nice Work If You Can Get It – by arranger Eric Stern; the fourth is Ayke Agus’ completion (from the original sketches) of Jascha Heifetz’s Excerpts from An American in Paris, Heifetz also being responsible for the Three Preludes for Piano and the Selections from Porgy and Bess. The only original piece for violin and piano is Short Story, which Gershwin wrote with and for the violinist Samuel Dushkin.

The arrangements are, for the most part, creative, sympathetic and effective, although the Porgy and Bess transcription (and to a lesser extent An American in Paris) suffers from being a bit too clever at times – perhaps not surprisingly, given that the transcriber was Heifetz; far from enhancing the music, the virtuosity seems to be all that matters, and simply gets in the way.

Soprano Ashley Brown joins the duo for the two songs Love Walked In and Nice Work If You Can Get It, and does a great job; the vocals are light and idiomatic, and the arrangements and violin playing quite lovely.

Robbins 09 Midori SeilerViolinist Midori Seiler is joined by the period specialist ensemble Concerto Köln, which she also directs, on her latest CD of Violin Concertos by Joseph Haydn (Berlin Classics 0300550BC). Four of the numerous violin concertos attributed to Haydn have been confirmed as authentic; one in D major has been lost, and the three concertos here in C Major, A Major and G Major, Hob.VIIa Nos.1, 3 and 4 respectively.

Seiler is noted as one of the leading period performance violinists in Germany, and brings a wealth of insight and experience to these fascinating works. The small size of the accompanying ensemble for this recording – six violins, two violas, one cello and one bass – gives the performances a lightness, clarity and sense of intimacy which is quite delightful, while the excellent range of dynamics provides a spirited vibrancy throughout.

The final track on a lovely CD is the short but charming Romance by Johann Peter Salomon, the German violinist and contemporary of Haydn who achieved greater fame as the London impresario who brought the composer to England on his two London visits.

Back to top