Joel Quarrington


Duos for cello and bass

Joel Quarrington and Coenraad Bloemendal


It would be a mistake to regard these pieces as musical oddities, much as it would be to regard Villa-Lobos’s Harmonica Concerto, or Vaughan Williams’s Tuba Concerto as the same. Both are works of great affective range and nobility that happen to use, and champion, two seemingly unlikely instruments. This brings up the subject of the double bass. In many of the early symphonies of Haydn, it often merely doubled the cello line an octave lower, serving as a lowly reinforcer of the bass line. Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf wrote two concertos for the instrument, and one for viola and double bass, and Beethoven took great delight in his friend Domenico Dragonetti’s ability to play his Cello Sonata, op. 5/2, on the double bass. The double bass had to wait until our own age when such practitioners as Serge Koussevitsky, Gary Karr, and Edgar Meyer came to the fore.

Well, not quite, given the evidence of this recording. Rossini’s Duetto for Cello and Bass, in its slow movement, plumbs astonishing emotional depths. It employs the typical Rossini bait-and-switch tactic of presenting a work that starts out as frivolous, though expert, entertainment, and then swerves into moments of unexpected beauty. Boccherini, a master cellist, presents in his Sonata in Bb Major a typical foray into his instrument’s tonal opulence. The piece was originally written for cello and basso continuo. Here, the double bass takes on that role.

Franz Joseph Keyper (1756–1815) was a Danish double-bass virtuoso. His Rondo for Bass Solo is not quite what the title implies, but a rapid-fire duet full of harmonics and similar such tricks where the double bass is the main voice and the cello is the accompanist. It is, as presented here, a virtuoso tour de force with disarming moments of lyricism. Offenbach’s Duo for Cello and Bass predates his famous stage works. In the early part of his career he was a virtuoso cellist who performed with, among others, Anton Rubinstein and Franz Liszt. He also wrote a great deal of cello music, most of which is lost. This surviving piece goes a long way toward rounding out our picture of this most enigmatic of composers.

Massenet’s odd little Duo for Bass and Cello (1: 14 in length and with the double bass taking the top part) is so unlike the Massenet I know from his operas as to be astonishing, but it proves to be a highly polished little jewel. Charles Nicolas Baudiot (1773–1849) was both a professor at the Paris Conservatoire and the principal cellist at the Royal Court Orchestra. His Theme and Variations is pure 19th-century Romanticism, redolent of Liszt’s operatic paraphrases. Given the evidence here, Baudiot is a composer of uncommon lyrical gifts.

The last piece, In Memory of Glenn , by the jazz-oriented Canadian composer Donald Thompson, is an homage to both Bach and Glenn Gould, and the most deeply moving work on this release. The Musical Offering and the Goldberg Variations are his points of departure in a piece dedicated to one of the greatest Bach interpreters of our age. The Gould connection also pertains to the two performers on this release. A few months before his untimely death, Gould was composing a score for a Canadian movie called The Wars . Part of that score consisted of a passage for cello and double bass. He wanted Coenraad Bloemendal, with whom he had performed on several occasions in the past, to realize the cello part, and then asked him to recommend a double bassist. Bloemendal suggested Joel Quarrington, and gave Gould a copy of their latest recording together (Crystal LP S135) for his perusal. He was delighted, and the score was recorded shortly before Gould’s passing.

Both musicians are easily up to the often-daunting demands of this music, and play that last track, In Memory of Glenn , with uncommon authority. The sound is fine and amazingly consistent, despite the fact that all the pieces, with the exception of that last track, which was recorded in 2008, were from that aforementioned Crystal LP.

G. Rossini Duetto

Luigi Boccherini Sonata in Bb Major

Franz Keyper Rondo Solo for Bass

Jacques Offenbach Duo

Jules Massenet Duo

Charles Baudiot Theme and Variations

Don Thompson In Memeory of Glenn

Available on iTunes.

Images by Fred Cattroll