Rossini, Duetto per violincello e contrabasso

Giacchino Rossini, 1792-1868

Duetto per violincello e contrabasso, 1824

Giacchino RossiniBy his mid-thirties, Giacchino Rossini was an internationally famous opera composer commanding enormous sums for musical services. By the age of 37, he essentially retired from composing though he continued to lead a lavish and notorious life to well into his seventies. Known primarily for his operas with their tear-off symphonic overtures, Rossini nonetheless penned a small cache of chamber works, notably his precocious string sonatas (at the age of thirteen), and various commissioned works sprinkled throughout his life. Rossini Duetto for cello and bass was commissioned in 1824 by amateur cellist Sir David Salomons for a soirée featuring a duet with the famous bass virtuoso Domenico Dragonetti (who once performed a sonata with Beethoven at the piano). Rossini’s duet is one of the most curious pieces in all of chamber history.

Outstanding concert string duets are rare. There are numerous studies, music for amateur domestic entertainment, private works for teacher and student. The string duet seems almost too spare and intimate for public performance, but such are its challenges: for the composer, supreme ingenuity of harmony and counterpoint, and for the performer, virtuosity, vulnerability and the duty of sensitive partnership. And always, to entertain. With his duet, Rossini delivers a gem, even with the improbable choice of cello and bass.

This three-movement work is a delight in many pleasures. As one’s listening shifts to the deeper range of cello and bass, the instruments reveal a whole new world of color, tone, and surprisingly, as an ensemble, satisfying breadth. The first movement is introductory, then animated and by turns witty and rich, revealing the supple virtuosity of each instrument through deft repartee. The second movement utterly convinces with a soulful aria complete with dramatic swell, florid reprise and truly beautiful singing. The finale is a triumphant romp of virtuosity, finally obliterating any doubt that cello and bass are perfectly capable of making as much good music as any two fiddles ever could, at least with the help of Rossini’s unmistakable dramatic flair.

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