John Carbon's previously recorded works for soloist and orchestra, which include highly successful concertos for clarinet, violin, trumpet and piano, are virtuoso showpieces with luminous orchestration and considerable emotional depth. Written for Richard Fredrickson, Endangered Species for double bass and chamber orchestra possesses all the above qualities, plus the idea of the concerto as a psychological journey through an energized landscape, in which the protagonist and audience are transformed. Whereas the numerous concerto models for piano, violin and clarinet are almost formulaic, the concerto for double bass and orchestra necessarily travels a much less beaten path. The unique solution for Endangered Species came to the composer when he was hiking in the Rockies:
"Once I had a concept in mind of the double bass as a large and wild creature, struggling but surviving, sometimes yearning, sometimes at war with the environment, but beautiful and lyrical in its power and grace, the piece began to flow."
Indeed the opening mood of Endangered Species is yearning and lamenting.The "creature" is first heard alone, in a high register, evoking an other-worldly vastness. The evocative landscape, represented by muted string harmonics and harp, is dark and portentous. The bassoon answers the soloist in the same register. In response, the bass expresses an impassioned unaccompanied outpouring, which deepens the feeling of aloneness. After the outcry dies down, the landscape reappears, now cast in a shimmering transparent orchestration. The music becomes busier and more urgent, quickening to a second, more dramatic soliloquy by the soloist, one that is more decisive (as if calling out). The creature's call fades into a tranquil hovering punctuated by tremolando strings, harp harmonics and crotales. A final unaccompanied lament leads into a dance-like scherzo, punctuated by timbales and pizzicato strings. The playful mood soon collapses into a desolate interplay between the soloist and the lowest depths of the orchestra. The protagonist's mood switches between lamentoso and bravura displays of heroism before the playful scherzo returns more frenzied and a long accelerando to a Presto culminates in an overpowering tutti onslaught. The soloist delivers another soliloquy, this time amorous and lyrical. The love song becomes more urgent as the bass gradually climbs impossibly to the highest and most intense notes in the piece. The creature's heroic efforts summon a partner, the bassoon, who mirrors the bass, only to have the courtship interrupted by the sardonic muted trumpet. The orchestra snarls and snorts, driving the bass forward in what becomes a wild and savage hunt, punctuated by horn glissandi and the whip. The bass turns desperate as it flees the pursuers. A long diminuendo accompanies the accelerando as the hunt progresses, which creates the fantastic illusion of the chase disappearing into the distance. As the bass scampers deftly away from the chase, its mate (the bassoon) appears once again in duet, offering the hope that they will escape together.The bassoon and bass rush to the prestissimo edge and the attackers suddenly reappear fortissimo with a violent tutti. A pregnant silence ensues implying survival or extinction, aloneness or companionship. The bass emerges from the silence alone, calling for the bassoon, but instead of reconciliation, there is a final violent forte outburst from the orchestra. Says Carbon: "The ending is enigmatic. Does the beast survive? Or is it stomped out by the relentless advance of civilization?" (Notes by Jason Jones)
Richard Fredrickson has recorded Endangered Species on MMC2138, released in 2005, with the Slovak Radio Orchestra, Kirk Trevor conducting.