Daxun Zhang

Bassic Bach

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To the untrained listener, adapting cello music to the double bass might seem like a simple matter, since the instrument sounds an octave lower than the cello, and appears only to differ in size. But because the double bass is tuned in fourths, not in fifths like the cello, and offers different possibilities for double stops and open-string sonorities, it takes a good deal of ingenuity to make an arrangement of cello music that sounds close to the composer's intentions and is practical on its own terms. Chinese double bassist Daxun Zhang has reworked J.S. Bach's Cello Suites No. 1, No. 4, and No. 5 as demonstration pieces of what can be done on his instrument, and the results are almost wholly satisfying. Most listeners, including those who know the Cello Suites well and have heard classic versions by Casals, Rostropovich, Starker, Fournier, and Yo-Yo Ma, will be able to appreciate the familiar music and Zhang's musicality, for he treats these pieces as genuine art and not exercises. The only difficulty some listeners with perfect pitch might have is with Zhang's decision to transpose the Suite No. 4 from E flat major to E major, and the Suite No. 5 from C minor to A minor, key changes that were best suited to new tunings and yielded the best artistic results. This is a great addition to the double bass repertoire, and Zhang's accomplishment promises important developments for the instrument's place in chamber music.

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