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Affan in the gut

Reuben Pace writes about a recent solo double-bass concert that was held al fresco in Strait Street by Macedonian double bassist Gjorgji Cincievski.

Gjorgji CincievskiGjorgji Cincievski

The Strada Stretta Concept, spearheaded by artistic director Giuseppe Schembri Bonaci in collaboration with the Valletta 2018 Foundation, has established itself as a source of unusual cultural events carried out in Strait Street. One such event, Affan, was held recently on a week night.

Affan was essentially a concert dedicated entirely to solo double bass performed by the Macedonian double bassist Gjorgji Cincievski, in itself not a common occurrence. Add to this the fact that the concert was held in the street itself (more or less at the corner with Archbishop Street) and you get one unusual event.

So what was the whole idea behind this concert?

Affann in Maltese means the very last breath before death. From the medieval times till the present, the strength of such a deep and profound last breath was thought to be the soul’s liberation from the body-corpse. Schembri Bonaci juxtaposes this moment towards nothingness with an actual space struggling to keep its own spirits alive.

The first item on the programme were three miniatures (1974) by Václav Fuka. The first miniature, the Preludium, is of quite a lyrical nature with intermittent scalic passages. The lyrical nature of the piece was beautifully brought out by Cincievski through varying shades of vibrato, while the scalic material was aptly strengthened by appropriate grades of increase or decrease in speed.

The second miniature is labelled Choral, aptly so since it craftily uses double stops (two notes played simultaneously) to give us the impression of different melodies playing together, as one would have with a choir. Double stops on a double bass are not easy to perform, but Cincievski handled them with great ease and to perfect intonation. The last miniature presents a fiery storm of virtuoso, fast material, which were again handled extremely well by Cincievski, his right, bow holding hand, transforming into a blur of passion.

The lyrical nature of the piece was beautifully brought out by Cincievski through varying shades of vibrato

The second work on the programme was Allemande, by Hans Fryba. As implied by the title, this was a piece heavily influenced by Baroque music, particularly by J.S. Bach. The piece focuses almost exclusively on the higher range of the instrument, which requires very precise intonation, again on the most part professionally managed by Cincievski.

The Capriccio in E by Miloslav Gajdos, another technically-demanding piece with fast switching between strings, was well handled by Cincievski. The slower lyrical section was beautifully pronounced.

The next piece, by Jules Massenet, is an arrangement of an excerpt from the opera Thais. This number uses a considerable register range from the instrument thus showcasing the different colours obtainable from the double bass, once more excellently projected by Cincievski.

The Transience of Life, by Simon Garcia, is characterised by lyrical sections contrasting with energetic sections which repeat the same motif. Both aspects of this work – the lyrical and the energetic – were excellently handled by Cincievski.

An arrangement for double bass of a Waltz, by Dmitri Shostakovich from his second Jazz Suite, was next. After teasing us with fragments of the theme on pizzicato and ponticello the Waltz itself started in the midst of which the enthusiastic audience, initiated by Cincievski sang along to the well-known tune.

As can be inferred from the title, Capriccio No.2 is a piece with a lively character and virtuoso-like in nature. This work by David Anderson makes ample use of multiple stops and very quick bowing, all mastered skilfully by Cincievski.

The next work, Motivy, transported us to the folk sounds of Bulgaria. The composer, Emil Tabakov, uses particular folk-inspired material to give this piece a unique sound which was thoroughly gulped up by the audience.

The last work was Invocation, another work by Miloslav Gajdos. Quite an intensive work, clocking in at seven minutes, this piece exhibits contrasting textures and coaxes a wide range of sounds from the instrument.

At the end of the concert, Cincievski was bestowed with much deserved applause so much so that he was asked to do an encore of the piece by Tabakov, which he again performed for us without hesitation and to great acclaim, bringing to a close this unique event.

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