Notes and Editorial Reviews
Zuill Bailey's bold and impassioned take on Tchaikovsky's Rococo Variations is quite unusual for this piece, which is usually presented in a more sedate manner. There's no chance of drowsiness with Bailey, whose vigorous and rough-hewn playing style proves a winning tonic for this music, causing you to hear it afresh, and perhaps even to reappraise its merits. The cello writing is quite fine, reaching virtuoso status in some passages, though Bailey treats the entire work as a cello tour de force. He's just as committed in Tchaikovsky's Pezzo Capriccioso and Nocturne in D minor.
The Shostakovich Concerto No. 1 of course is a better-known piece, with greater challenges. Again, Bailey employs a big, solid tone as he digs into
the music, yet he's also quite sensitive to the composer's pointed rhythms, prickly accents, and subtle dynamic shadings. However, Shostakovich requires more than the pleasant but rather undistinguished playing Martin West and the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra provided for the Tchaikovsky works. There's nothing really wrong with West's accompaniment, but to hear Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra for Rostropovich (admittedly an ungenerous comparison) is to experience the deep emotion and bitter irony Shostakovich wrote into the music--qualities not readily discernible in the San Francisco ensemble's performance.
Still, it's Zuill's playing that matters most to cello aficionados, and he does not disappoint, especially as Telarc's recording gives him the lion's share of the sound stage. It's an unusual program, but the pieces work well together. For that, and for Bailey's playing, this disc is well worth a listen.
--Victor Carr Jr, ClassicsToday.com
Thrilling and intelligent playing.
Whilst the title of this collection is misleading - none of the Tchaikovsky works could be considered masterpieces - this is a very enjoyable and well presented and played programme.
Tchaikovsky's set of variations is a delightful divertissement, eight variations on a simple theme which cover the whole gamut of expression and use of technique. Bailey is a strong player who characterises each variation well, bringing a delicious personality to the various pieces. His lyrical playing is, by turns, big, rich and beefy and winsome and restrained. He has a wonderful sense of rubato, and knows when to relax and allow the various soloists in the orchestra to take centre-stage. If you need to sample this performance before purchasing the disk, try the final two variations which are heart-breakingly poignant and wildly exuberant respectively. This is a fine performance.
The first half of the
Pezzo Capriccioso is far too serious for its own good but once the boisterous high spirits start nothing can get in the way of the forward rush of notes. The heart-on-sleeve melancholy of the
Nocturne sits uncomfortably between the high jinks of the
Pezzo and the bluff seriousness of the opening movement of the Shostakovich Concerto.
The problem with the Shostakovich violin and cello concertos is that they were written for two of the greatest musicians of the 20
th century - David Oistrakh and Mstislav Rostropovich - and they both made definitive recordings of the works so anyone making a new recording of the pieces, and new interpretations of these works are always welcome, has a lot to live up to. Bailey doesn't quite stamp his personality on the first movement; good though he is I feel a little detachment from the music. He is however magnificent in the slow movement, his lyrical bent shining forth and the tragedy of the music being stated simply without any added pathos. This is just about perfect. Bailey handles the third movement cadenza without any show of excessive display. For him it's another movement in the piece which just happens to be unaccompanied and extremely difficult! This is superbly musical playing. The finale is given a rather heavier performance than we are used to but it works. There is a feeling, which I often get from Shostakovich finales, of a desperation with his lot, a need to shake the fist against the world but the composer's essential humanity won't actually allow him to really let go. That is the genius of Shostakovich: he takes us to the edge but never pushes us over.
This is a superb disk, and even if the recording is a touch dry - I would have liked a bit of reverberation to add some warmth to what are excellent performances - it is very clear and precise. Even though there is only one real masterpiece on this disk it is enough, especially when given this thrilling and intelligent treatment.
Bob Briggs, MusicWeb International
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