Xavier Foley makes the double bass sing at PCMS

Xavier Foley
Xavier Foley

Xavier Foley, at 23, can do almost anything with the double bass—including starting a concert with a challenging arrangement of the Prelude No. 1 in C Major by Johann Sebastian Bach. Those simple arpeggiated passages so many piano students proudly plow through on the keyboard using two hands become treacherous leaps on the double bass.  His amazing accuracy and grace, plus the outstandingly solid memory made this a memorable performance. For the fugue, the results were less satisfactory, with guest artist Eunice Kim,’s violin being just a hair behind in rhythm and stilted in tonality playing a Bach style with almost no vibrato. Sejoon Park’s delicate piano was amazing, but hidden by the other voices of the fugue.

In the Mozart Sonata in E minor for violin and piano, the arrangement provided ample opportunity to show off Mr. Park’s incredible pianism. Both Mr. Foley and Mr. Park played with expressive delicacy.  Mr. Park made a rising scale into a multicolored prism of sound while Mr. Foley easily crowned phrases with quiet and perfectly intoned harmonics with perfect ease.

The musical height of the evening was the performance of the Franz Schubert Arpeggione sonata.  The piece itself is a romantic bit of fluff, which, on the surface, has little musical depth. In the hands of Park and Foley, however, the musicality was surprisingly vivid, with daring dynamic and tempo shifts creating delightful surprises for the ear.

Mr. Foley’s composition, “The Spirit of the Ice Bear”, for violin and double bass was a Philadelphia premiere. It started with quiet violin double stops and a double bass jig.  As the piece progressed, it became folksy, then jazzy. The second movement, “Hibernation” was a bit long. Intended to imitate improvisation, to me, the piece as a whole seemed too predictable.

The three performers played together for the Giovanni Bottesini Gran Duo Concertante for violin and double bass, which Mr. Foley just finished performing on tour with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.  Ms. Kim was able to show her impressive facility on the violin in this challenging and almost ridiculously romantic technical showpiece, but it was Mr. Foley’s high notes, using harmonics to play in thirds with the violin, that stole the show.

[The Philadelphia Chamber Music Society presents a Musical Fund Society Series with Xavier Foley, bass, Sejoon Park, piano and guest artist Eunice Kim, Benjamin Franklin Hall, 427 Chestnut Street] January 25, 2019; pcmsconcerts.org


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