On Stolen Pearls, double bassist Nicholas Schwartz and pianist Anna Fedorova present repertoire originally written for other instruments.
For this recording, the double bass, and its faithful friend the piano, have journeyed extensively, bringing home a rich booty of musical discoveries, ‘stolen pearls’ from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. From Argentina, Germany, Austria, the USA, Russia, and Italy.
It marks the debut recording of the Oyster Duo. However, double bassist Nicholas Schwartz (Concertgebouworkest, Amsterdam) and concert pianist Anna Fedorova are certainly not new to each other. They have been playing music as a duo and in larger chamber music settings for many years. And they are newlyweds, too.
“The pieces on this album are some of the favorites of our repertoire over the last 5 years. We chose music which, although not written for the double bass, naturally suits it and enhances it with its deep and rich tones. The music highlights the vocal qualities, diverse genre styles and virtuoso capabilities of the instrument and its player.”
Nicholas Schwartz – Double Bass
Anna Fedorova – Piano
Total time: 01:12:28
Horus, Merging Technologies
|Original Recording Format|
|Recording & Mastering Engineer||
|Release Date||May 7, 2021|
I first encountered the constituent parts of the Oyster Duo – pianist Anna Fedorova and Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra double bass player Nicky Schwartz – at a recording session for the former’s Channel Classics début release, Four Fantasies.
Invited by the label’s founder, Jared Sacks, I listened in to the sessions in Eindhoven’s Muziekgebouw (and to Schwartz rehearsing in the ‘green room’). Spent the evening with them at the Sacks house, and next morning watched with amusement as Schwartz trundled his ‘big fiddle’ on its single wheel onto the train from Einhoven back to Amsterdam – they home, me to the airport.
Since then, the two have become even more of a duo. They were married some time back, and now have released this first album as the Oyster Duo, again for Channel Classics. And a thrilling set it is too.
Opening with Ginastera’s suite of five Argentinian songs, and encompassing pieces from Gershwin and Bloch to Shostakovich, Schumann, and Schubert – all pieces written for other instruments but arranged by the pair over the past five years. This well-rehearsed repertoire sounds fabulous, from the impact and delicacy of Fedorova’s piano to the rich resonance of Schwartz’s bass., all captured beautifully in the studio by engineer Jochem Geene, recording the music straight to DXD.
There’s some serious bass weight on this album, and on the wrong system this can swamp the more delicate pianism at times. But find a set up with both low-end extension and control, and it sounds superb.
Solo practitioners have increased markedly over recent decades, but the double bass remains limited as to repertoire. More reason, then, for the judicious arrangements Nicholas Schwartz and Anna Fedorova assemble here – opening with an early collection of songs by Ginastera in which this instrument effortlessly replaces the human voice in such as the haunting ‘Triste’ or sultry ‘Arrorró’.
The Schumann might have been equally idiomatic, but Schwartz has some difficulties of balance against the piano’s rich chordal harmonies, for all Federova renders these with admirable restraint. No such issues affect the Schubert, whose autumnal melodic writing is as eloquently conveyed here as by the more familiar versions for cello or viola – the elegiac Adagio and ruminative finale being especially successful in this respect.
What follows is a sequence of encores – the soulfulness of the Gershwin finding pointed contrast with the stark raptness of the Bloch (and it would be well worth hearing the whole suite in this guise), with the Shostakovich taking on a hitherto unsuspected plangency when compared to its orchestral original, then the Rachmaninov yielding little in emotional acuity next to its vocal incarnation.
The program closes with the only item conceived for the double bass, Bottesini’s showpiece putting the instrument through its paces to diverting effect. Here, as throughout the recital, Schwartz and Fedorova evince tangible feeling for the music in question as also the needs of a duo still not without its element of novelty.
Cleanly and clearly recorded, this is a release intent on taking such a partnership into the mainstream.
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