Double bass recitals come along only at very irregular intervals. And virtuosos of that instrument do not yet draw idolators by the thousands, like those of the flute. But an overflow crowd of about a hundred crowded a gallery of the Textile Museum last night to hear bassist Richard Fredrickson display his mastery of the instrument. And it was considerable.
Fredrickson is a Juilliard graduate in the bass and plays in the Handel Festival Orchestra. The concert was a preview, staged by his friends in the Friends of Handel, of what he will play in August at the International Double Bass Competition on the Isle on Man.
Do not pretend that the double bass is a cello in a lower register. It has neither the cello's flexibility nor the clear focus of cello tone--especially in the bass' lower notes, which sometimes seem fuzzy and diffuse. And because of its size, the bass can be unwieldy when played with a bow at high speed. No wonder it didn't really come into its own as more than a low-key support instrument until jazz incorporated its pizzicato side and released the bass from its instrumental bondage.
All said, though, it was amazing what an expressive range Frederickson cajoled from the bass. The instrument seemed most striking in the contemporary works, for because of the penchant that modern music has for tones that are not fully rounded, it opens more possibilities for the bass. Two works exploited plucks, and scrapes and other things that were once considered extramusical sounds. One work, "The Old King's Lament" by British composer Nicholas Maw, sounded almost primitive and barbaric with its stark intervals and its almost percussive effects. "Parable" by the American Vincent Persichetti was more austere. Ernest Bloch's "Prayer" was more romantic--brooding and introverted.
In the late 19th-century lyric works by Misek and Bottesini, Fredrickson made the double bass sound remarkably like a lyric instrument. But it didn't sound like the bass will ever replace the cello.