Catalin Rotaru

Bass*ic Cello Notes

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This cleverly titled album (Bass*ic Cello Notes) featuring University of Arizona double bass professor Catalin Rotaru showcases his skills as both performer and transcriber. The first work on the program (not transcribed by Rotaru) is Brahms' First Cello Sonata, a work performed frequently and successfully by bassists. Rotaru's playing here is quite pleasing; his tone in the lower registers is dark without being muddy and higher notes are clear without being nasal.

Next up is Rotaru's transcription of the Bach Chaconne from the D minor violin Partita, heard here for bass and cello. There have been all sorts of transcriptions made of this masterwork -- for piano, two cellos, two violins, and so on. What most of them prove is that in some instances, it's more difficult to achieve on two instruments the sound that violinists do when performing this piece alone. Rotaru's attempt is really quite good; the depth of the bass coupled with the range of the cello yields a dark, rich sonority to the piece. There are some difficulties in the area of pitch with both instruments, and cellist Thomas Landschoot seems to push the tempo much faster than his larger counterpart is willing to accommodate. Overall, though, this is a strong work both in performance and quality of transcription.

The performance of the Rachmaninov Cello Sonata is a valiant and generally successful attempt by Rotaru. In the liner notes, he claims that for the most part he just plays directly out of the original cello part without having to change key -- a fact for which his pianist is most likely grateful. The major hurdle here is the same the cellists must overcome -- balance in this sonata is quite difficult even for the cello, which can project better than the bass almost any day of the week. Rotaru and his pianist Andrew Campbell do a good job overcoming this by greatly subduing the piano part, but that just makes the piano seem timid and much less important than it actually is in the sonata. Still, it's a generally strong performance and one that bassists will surely want to check out.

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