Notes and Editorial Reviews
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Cello Sonatas: Nos. 1–5.
Variations on a Theme by Handel. Variations on “Ein Mädchen oder ein Weibchen.” Variations on Mozart’s “Bei Männern”
Zuill Bailey (vc); Simone Dinnerstein (pn)
TELARC 80740 (2 CDs: 147:32)
With such a surfeit of really excellent recent entries in this
repertoire, it’s difficult to recommend one over another, especially when one could easily live happily ever after with any one of them. As recently as 32:3, I reviewed a brand new set from Antonio Meneses and Menahem Pressler on Avie, and had a hard time choosing between it and a set from Miklós Perényi and András Schiff, reviewed back in 28:3, concluding that both were equally valid and satisfying, M&P taking a slightly more intimate chamber music approach where P&S were a bit more dramatic in thrust. In between those two entries came Bion Tsang and Anton Nel in 30:1 and Emanuel Gruber and Arnon Erez in 30:5, both of which earned high marks, but didn’t quite measure up to either M&P or P&S. Then, just when I thought I’d settled the matter to my own satisfaction, there came Suren Bagratuni and Ralph Votapek on Blue Griffin in 32:4 to upset once again my sense of certitude at having sorted it all out. But if that wasn’t one siege of sonatas too many, there came in the same issue Daniel Müller-Schott and Angela Hewitt on a single disc containing the first three sonatas in performances I opined made all others dispensable, stating that “if I were allowed only one recording of these works, this would be the one I’d choose.”
With the arrival of this new Bailey/Dinnerstein set, all hope for some semblance of order in my universe has vanished. These performances are of an interpretive breadth and depth that pose a challenge even to Müller-Schott and Hewitt. But before elaborating on the good, let me dispense with the one aspect of Bailey’s playing that gives me some pause. In my Tchaikovsky review in 32:4, I complained of Bailey that “when the going gets rough, so does his bowing.” To a lesser degree in these works, but still enough to be noted, Bailey’s tone turns a bit abrasive when he digs into the string with his bow, something that only seems to happen in passages that are technically taxing. These moments, however, are few and far enough between and so counterbalanced by miles and miles of gorgeous playing that I do not wish to make a big deal of a bump or two in the road every now and then.
Admittedly, Bailey’s and Dinnerstein’s Beethoven is big-boned and large-scaled—one might call it hyper-Romantic—but not in a way that smacks of braggadocio or pretentiousness. Rather, I’d call it magnanimous and munificent. They convey the sense, even in the early op. 5 sonatas, that Beethoven had more to say than what initially greets the ear. And that’s what I meant above in referring to the breadth and depth of these performances. Everywhere there is probing. The potential of no note, no dynamic or expressive marking, is left unexplored. Listen, for example, to the tone of utter peacefulness and repose Bailey draws from his cello at 36 seconds into the slow introduction to the F-Major Sonata, followed by Dinnerstein’s staccato chords at 1:00, warning that not all is well.
The exchange comes across as more than just a musical dialogue. It has about it the feeling of a heightened emotional exchange between two actors in a stage play. Am I leading up to saying that there is in these performances an element of the theatrical? Yes, but the players in this particular play never overreach or overstep the bounds of the script, or, in this case, the notes on the page. The example I’ve given is not an isolated incident. The “interpreting”—i.e., finding the meaning—in every note, every measure, and every phrase is thoroughgoing. Some might call it fussy, possibly even meddling; but it depends on how one hears Beethoven and what one wishes to take away from an encounter with his music.
Not to ignore Simone Dinnerstein, let me say that she is no shrinking violet. I’ve heard her recording of Bach’s
that was favorably reviewed in a feature article in 31:2 by James Reel, and I would have to say that as with Angela Hewitt, Dinnerstein is well served in Beethoven by her rigorous contrapuntal discipline. I had not realized, however, before checking the
archive, that she had previously recorded the Beethoven sonatas with cellist Simca Heled for the Classico label as far back as 2001 (see 24:5), or that she and Bailey had previously recorded the
“Bei Männern” Variations
on Bailey’s debut album in 2003 for the Delos label (see 27: 2). I’ve not heard either of those entries, so I’m unable to compare Dinnerstein/Heled with Dinnerstein/Bailey, or the Delos
with the current Telarc version. I can only say that Dinnerstein makes her presence felt in this new set as a Beethoven interpreter to contend with, and that she and Bailey together make a formidable team.
I know there are lots of Beethoven cello sonata sets out there to choose from, and you may already have two or three of them on your shelf; but this one is a worthy addition to the collection, and Telarc’s in-your-room sound is visceral. Strongly recommended.
FANFARE: Jerry Dubins
Works on This Recording
Featured Sound Samples
Cello Sonata no 1: II. Allegro
Cello Sonata no 3: IV. Allegro vivace
Variations for Cello and Piano on Mozart's "Bei Männern"
Beethoven: Sonata No.1 in F Major, Op. 5 No. 1: Adagio
Beethoven: Sonata No.1 in F Major, Op. 5 No. 1: Allegro
Beethoven: Sonata No. 1 in F major, Op. 5 No. 1: Rondo: Allegro vivace
Beethoven: Sonata No. 2 in G minor, Op. 5 No. 2: Adagio sostenuto e espressivo
Beethoven: Sonata No. 2 in G minor, Op. 5 No. 2: Allegro molto piu tosto presto
Beethoven: Sonata No. 2 in G minor, Op. 5 No. 2: Rondo Allegro
Beethoven: Sonata No. 3 in A major, Op. 69: Allegro ma non tanto
Beethoven: Sonata No. 3 in A major, Op. 69: Scherzo: Allegro molto
Beethoven: Sonata No.3 in A major, Op. 69: Adagio cantabile
Beethoven: Sonata No. 3 in A major, Op. 69: Allegro vivace
Beethoven: 12 Variations in G Major on "See the conqu'ring hero comes" from Handel's Judas Maccabaeus, WoO 45
Beethoven: 12 Variations in F major on "Ein Madchen oder ein Weibchen" from Mozart's The Magic Flute, Op. 66
Beethoven: 7 Variations in Eb major on "Bei Mannern, welche Liebe fuhlen" from Mozart's The Magic Flute, woO 46
Beethoven: Sonata No. 4 in C major, Op. 102 No. 1: Andante
Beethoven: Sonata No. 4 in C major, Op. 102 No. 1: Allegro vivace
Beethoven: Sonata No. 4 in C major, Op. 102 No. 1: Adagio
Beethoven: Sonata No. 4 in C major, Op. 102 No. 1: Allegro con brio
Beethoven: Sonata No. 5 in D major, Op. 102 No. 2: Allegro con brio
Beethoven: Sonata No. 5 in D major, Op. 102 No. 2: Adagio con moto sentimento d'affetto
Beethoven: Sonata No. 5 in D major, Op. 102 No. 2: Allegro-Allegro fugato
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