Review / Clear and penetrating lesson on the double bass

Music / Canberra Symphony Orchestra, Recital Two, Phoebe Russell. At Wesley Music Centre, April 29. Reviewed by ROB KENNEDY

DOUBLE-bass player Phoebe Russell who has played in the Berlin Philharmonic and more than 20 orchestras across the globe is now home as the principal double bass with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra.

Double-bass soloist Phoebe Russell… at Llewellyn Hall, May 2-3.

Pianist Meriel Owen, who is also a harpist accompanied Russell in this recital for the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, and they opened with the “Introduction and Bolero” by Giovanni Bottesini. Also known for his conducting, Bottesini was a romantic composer and a double bass virtuoso.

This short work is full of lyrical beauty and sensitivity, and it was played that way. Russell stood at her instrument, which is something almost never seen outside a jazz club. This large bass requires a player to stretch down its long fingerboard, and when a player is standing, they have to wrap themselves around the instrument to get to the high notes. This did not worry Russell at all and the constant repositioning of her body made the music even more dramatic.

The largest member of the string family, the double bass is a formidable instrument, capable of the deepest and most penetrating growl to a piercing high. When in the hands of a player such as Russell it can sing, howl and swoon an audience. Russell’s versatility and tone are supple and passionately accurate. She can move to any note with speed and hit it with dead-on precision.

Russell introduced each piece and gave some history about what she was going to perform; she created a lively and friendly atmosphere with the audience.

The flowing “Cello Sonata No 1” by Brahms is a romantic and dreamy piece, and it can be played on the double bass as it was written within its register. While the double bass lacks a bit of volume at its highest register and its lowest notes can get lost in the sound of another instrument, its voice in this concert was clear and penetrating, even over the afternoon’s rain and thunder.

Through the fiery opening to the third movement and its rapid passages and forte dynamic, one could feel the double bass all the way from the back of the Wesley Uniting Church. This high-speed last movement rarely lets up and Russell showed her brilliance in handling every note.

Russian composer Reinhold Glière’s “Intermezzo and Tarantella” has an elusive nature. It flows as an evocative song with musical beauty and as Tarantella’s are known for, a fast and tricky nature, which was handled exceptionally well by Owen on piano and Russell who is clearly a player of unique talent and warmth.

Russell is the soloist for the Canberra Symphony Orchestra, May 2-3, Llewellyn Hall.


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