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During his long career as the leader of avant-garde Polish music, Penderecki has made many creative friendships. One of his closest in recent years has been with the German violinist Anne-Sophie Mutter. Their collaboration has generated three major works: the Second Violin Concerto (“Metamorphoses”), the Second Violin Sonata, and this Duo concertante per violino e contrabbasso. Mutter’s foundation for the encouragement of young string players issued the commission for the Duo concertante, which Mutter premiered with one of her scholarship holders, Roman Patkoló.

Penderecki adopted the Italian title referring to a piece for two solo performers. His research turned up a single precedent for the odd combination of violin and double bass, an arrangement of a Gran duo concertante originally written by Giovanni Bottesini in 1880 for two double basses and orchestra. The extreme difference in the pitch ranges of the two instruments explains the paucity of repertoire. Here, Pen- derecki partially addressed the problem by having the strings of the double bass tuned a whole tone higher than customary.

What resulted is a surprisingly lyrical,  rhapsodic, and emotionally rich musical conversation. Mostly the players take virtuoso turns in the spotlight, in question-and-answer format, with one instrument providing quiet accompaniment while the other holds the floor. The main theme is a motoric five-note figure tossed back and forth like a ball. Special effects abound. At the end, the double bassist strikes the instrument’s body with hand and knee before joining the violinist in bowing behind the bridge.