The Strad Issue: January 2011
Description: Mixed results from double bass transcriptions of works ‘stolen’ from other string instruments
Musicians: Craig Butterfield (double bass) Charles Fugo (piano)
Composer: Franck, Vaughan Williams, Schubert

Bassist Craig Butterfield describes his disc as an excusable ‘act of musical thievery’. His instrument sings with eloquence in the opening movement of César Frank’s Violin Sonata, but it is his brilliant agility in the finale that is so remarkable. Yet where the original violin can flow effortlessly though the notes, here they carry a sense of stress, and where passages fall readily under the fingers of the violinist, for the bassist they pose problems with hand shifts. That becomes particularly apparent in the third movement where intonation can sound too edgy at times.

The six short studies for cello by Vaughan Williams are playable in the same octave as originally intended, and Butterfield allows himself just a few moments when he takes the liberty to plunge downwards. The music is technically less problematic, and the final Allegro vivace is dispatched with good fun and vitality.
In the Schubert, Butterfield’s ‘thievery’ is on safer ground as he substitutes his bass for a long extinct instrument, the arpeggione. He writes in the booklet that the result is extremely demanding and more so than the ‘flashy’ Franck, yet in every way his performance is more satisfying .

Charles Fugo is a most responsive partner, bringing the full quota of weight to the Franck, and the sound quality is well balanced.