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MUSIC REVIEW : Francois Rabbath in Eclectic Solo Recital

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Double bassist Francois Rabbath certainly fuses virtuosic forms of pop, jazz and classical music like no one else.

Assisted occasionally by pianist Liliana Hsueh, Rabbath demonstrated his unique style Saturday night with a recital of his own works and transcriptions in a packed Schoenberg Hall at UCLA--the final event of the weeklong conference for the International Society of Bassists. The audience--mostly bassists--listened in awe to a musician who is obviously held in high regard by his peers.

Clearly, Rabbath is at his best as a performer. Of 13 original works plus two encores, most emphasized his mastery of rapid and singing melodies executed effortlessly at the top of the fingerboard--not to mention an impressive vocabulary of harmonics and other effects.

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As a composer, his accessible, programmatic works challenge the performer, not the listener. Yet undeniably, his unpretentious approach to music-making has evolved into a sophisticated style of its own.

His Neo-Romantic Concerto No. 3 for double bass best demonstrated the fluidity of his language. Rabbath performed with rapture in the lush, sometimes overly simple melodic passages, while Hsueh accompanied with safe, accurate steadiness.

On the lighter side, “Poucha-Dass” nodded toward the music of India. A sul ponticello melody nicely represented the rich sound of a sitar while the left hand plucked a steady rhythm like the droning of a tanpura.

Another notable effort, “Odyssey Beneath the Sea,” combines several effects to imitate sounds from the ocean: boats, whales and so forth. A jazzy middle section with a sparse piano part--performed dutifully by Hsueh--was integrated seamlessly into the whole.

The audience exuded the most enthusiasm for rapid passages: the Irish jig elements and virtuosic harmonic glissandos in “Breiz”; a transcription of a Paganini work laden with rapid, spiccato passages; and a showy encore, “Crazy Course.”

Transcriptions of Bach and Vivaldi were less successful, as Rabbath’s bass took on the character of an unwieldy cello, even though it is laudable that such music can be played at all on the double bass. Other works, with titles such as “Hunting Horns” and “Reitba (Africa),” offered simple, folk-tune-inspired ideas.

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