by Bill Heck
Bottesini: Tarantella, Capriccio di Bravura, Elegy No. 1 in D Major; Massenet: Meditation from Thaïs; Hindemith: Sonata for Double Bass and Piano; Montag: Sonata in E Minor for Double Bass and Piano; Mendelssohn: Cello Sonata No. 2 in D Major; Rachmaninoff: Sonata in G minor for Cello and Piano, Op. 19 (third movement); Franck: Sonata in A major for Violin and Piano. Jaemin Shin, Mikyung Sung. Modus Vivendi Media MVM2301
When I first happened upon this album, I was dumbfounded. So far as I can tell, it should be physically impossible to play a double bass in the manner that Ms. Sung does. Flying through endless quick series of notes with on the nose intonation along the extended neck with thick strings of this instrument: how in the world does she do that?
But, of course, there is more to this two-CD set than mere technical brilliance, so let’s explore.
Massenet’s Meditation from Thais is one of those works that you’ve heard somewhere, even if you didn’t know what it was. Originally composed for violin and orchestra, in the wrong hands it can degenerate into a rather saccharine tearjerker, but the transposition of the work to double bass with piano accompaniment gives it a whole new sound, perhaps more straightforward than the original. In any case, Sung’s playing is moving without turning into treacle.
Next up are two more recent works also originally composed for the double bass, namely Paul Hindemith’s Sonata for Double Bass and Piano, followed by Vilmas Montag’s work of the same name.
The Hindemith Sonata is in much the same vein as some of his better know and more popular works, such as the Mathis der Maler or the Metamorphosis (on Themes by Weber). Although there are moments of dissonance, the composition still is tonal, with a mood best described as mysterious, and developed mostly in minor keys. Personally, I found it quite engaging and I’m glad to have made its acquaintance.
I’m less certain of the Montag composition but can say with confidence that Sung makes the best possible case for it. Her playing, especially in the lower register of the instrument, is lovely and powerful at the same time.
This is a good time to mention that the contributions from pianist Jaemin Shin are beyond mere accompaniment: there’s no doubt that the album is about Sung, but she and Shin are very much partners in music making.
The sound on both discs is clean and natural, although that on the second is just a touch more distant that on the first. (The recording venues were different.) I listened to the album on my streaming service; sadly, the CD booklet was not available there. (I wish I knew why booklets are or are not available on streaming service that support them; they are for some newer works but not for all.) The CD is generally available, but you also can purchase a digital download of the entire thing at Mikyung Sung’s website.