Vittorio Giannini: Psalm 130; John Carbon: "Endangered Species"; & William Thomas McKinley: Passacaglia. Richard Fredrickson, doublebass, Slovak Radio Orchestra, Kirk Trevor, conductor. MMC 2138, ©2005 (46:54). $14.95 + shipping, available from http://www.mmcrecordings.com/ [inactive 10/09].
This CD has a North Carolina connection: the composer of the opening piece was the first Director of the NC School of the Arts. Unfortunately, his tenure was prematurely terminated by a heart attack that took his life, and the school and legacy of 20th-century musical compositions thereby both undoubtedly suffered a significant loss.
This CD offers first recordings, and two of the works were composed for the performer. Giannini's work was written in 1963 for the other major doublebass proponent, Gary Karr, who like Fredrickson works hard not only to advance his own career but also to increase the solo repertoire for this instrument.
All of the music is eminently approachable, highly lyrical, and most enjoyable. Giannini's piece, a "rhapsodic commentary" on the text of the psalm that opens with "Out of the depths my soul cries unto Thee," has moments that resemble some of the great late-Romantic cello concertos, like Dvorák's and Elgar's. The Carbon and McKinley works are more distinctively 20th-century in their accompanying instrumentation and more unusual effects, and both have moments that bring the compositions of Leonard Bernstein to mind. For the tracking, the McKinley is subdivided into its Theme, the  Variations, and the Finale.
The accompanying booklet has copious – not to say exhaustive – and well-written notes including detailed capsule bios of the composers and analyses of the compositions, featuring comments by the composers in the case of the latter two, as well as bios of the soloist and the conductor. The notes on Giannini are by Walter Simmons, author of Voices in the Wilderness, reviewed by this writer in these pages. Deep and intellectual though it tends to be, it is a model to emulate; having composers' own takes on the fruits of their labors is always fascinating.
The performances are outstanding, as is the sound quality. Fredrickson brings out both the soul and the greater-than-imagined solo-role potential and versatility of his instrument, and the orchestral accompaniment is balanced and supportive. My sole "beef" is that the total playing time is so brief. (Is the fact that it is nowhere printed in the booklet a reflection of the manufacturer's embarrassment?) Fredrickson surely must have another work in his library or repertoire that would have complemented these and that he could have dusted off to fill out the disk and bring it more in line with customary contemporary lengths. Nonetheless, this CD is very highly recommended.