Traditionally, the double bass takes a back seat. There are exceptions - Saint-Saëns famously solo-casting it as the galumphing elephant in Carnival of the Animals, Mahler prescribing it a lugubrious minor key Frère Jacques in his First Symphony - but there’s no denying its low-lying gravitas befits a stereotypical backroom function.
Place it in the hands of Nikita Naumov, though, and the story is strikingly different. Born in the Novosibirsk, Siberia, and after studies that took him from specialist music school in Kazakhstan to London’s Guildhall via the St Petersburg Conservatoire, Naumov has been better known since 2010 as the effervescent principal bassist of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra.
His loose-limbed playing style is his trademark, freely swaying to the beat with a permanent smile. He’s also a remarkable talent who can make the bass sing like a cello.
That isn’t the only reason Naumov chose to perform the searingly gorgeous slow movement from Rachmaninov’s Cello Sonata for the Scotsman Sessions. “Good bass repertoire is hard to come by,” he says. “I started arranging this sonata as a student, but never finished it.”
The incentive to do so came when the SCO suggested he get together with fellow Russian Maxim Emelyanychev, the orchestra’s principal conductor and first-rate pianist, to record something online. “Maxim videoed the piano part in his Moscow apartment, sent it to me in Edinburgh, which gave me three days to learn it and fit my part to his.”
If that seems a back-to-front way of doing things, close examination of Rachmaninov’s final and most memorable chamber work shows the piano in as dominant a role in defining the ebb and flow of this emotive andante as the bass. Or simply sit back and just enjoy this all-Russian tour-de-force for the marvel it is.
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