With so many different interpretations to choose from, and precious little time to listen to them all, giving a comparative assessment of Zuill Bailey’s superb new recording of these somewhat strange yet fascinating works is difficult. How can I know what you hear compared to what I hear? How can one define the style in which these works are played, or put the impression of different artists’ musical arch into perspective? There are so many variablesRead more to consider that all I can really do is give my impression and hope you agree.
Stylistically, Bailey’s interpretation is “modified Baroque”—his own description, and mine. By this we mean that he uses a true period instrument, not a re-creation (a 1693 Goffriller), but a modern bow and very light vibrato throughout. His turns are clean and do not squeak like a door on a rusty hinge à la so many “authentic” performances. And he interprets the music, adding the dimensions of rubato, rhythmic “push,” a singing line, and emotional involvement.
Perhaps the most idiosyncratic recording is that by Yehuda Hanani (Town Hall THCD-51, 1997), a performance that has the most rhythmic bite I’ve ever heard. Hanani aurally divides the bass and treble lines to such an extent that one can feel the opposing syncopation as part of the listening experience. He also uses occasional pizzicato, slightly alters note lengths, and adds some additional ornaments. I happen to enjoy this approach, but it’s not to all tastes. Bailey, in common with Yo-Yo Ma, Steven Isserling, and several others, is more centrist, pursuing a singing tone, but there are several interesting features that mark him as unique. Quickly comparing his own 2003 recording of the Suite No. 1 (Delos 3326) to the present recording shows just how much he has grown. The early recording is smoother, more finely chiseled, even more lyrical in places (the Sarabande in particular), but the new recording has much more character. Sharper rhythms and more dramatic articulation make the earlier recording sound like a very fine rehearsal, but not a wholly memorable experience.
Bailey admits that this music is extremely personal for him, yet at the same time tries to distance his ego from what he sees as Bach’s message. This leads to a tightrope walk between direct communion and personal projection. Starting with Anna Magdalena Bach’s hand-written score, he worked his way through the various editions, lived with the scores for several years, listened to the works played on different instruments, and played the music in his head. I’m not sure that Johann Sebastian Bach himself paid this much attention to them. Thus this apparently seamless, glowing, alternately serious and joyous musical journey emerges as a completely unique experience. By more finely honing his interpretation over the years, Bailey realized that the key to the work (for him) was to “hit those pedal tones” with the audacity of a Virgil Fox, and from those booming chest tones blooms the flower of Bach’s genius.
Thousands of little piquant touches emerge to the attentive listener: the slight time-compression of the triplets in the Gigue of No. 1, the world-weary yet hypnotic reading of the Allemande in No. 6, and the incredible cohesiveness of all of Suite No. 4. His timbre has a perpetual rosy glow, and the dance movements emerge with boisterous exuberance. The end result, then, whatever its surface resemblance to other performances on record, is a unique, beautiful, and shining musical experience.
A rare findSeptember 29, 2014By Bernard A J. (Kansas City, MO)See All My Reviews"Zuill does a excellent interpretation for a Bach lover's desert island recording. The surprise though that took some getting accustomed to was the he plays the cello without all the bowing, scratchy noise we are so used to on any cello recordings. It is very a beautiful and one sees the cello as well as Bach in a whole new light. Even though I still wonder how the cello could sound that beautiful, I thoroughly enjoyed this recording."Report Abuse
Terrific BachMay 12, 2013By Alan Cowan (Canberra, ACT)See All My Reviews"These Suites are surely one of the greatest peaks of Western music, and one of Bach's supreme achievements. I have other versions including Fournier, Bylsma and Maisky. (Actually, although Maisky is perhaps too prone to over-dramatiasation, I do have a certain affection for his version. I don't like Yo Yo Ma at all. Casals is interesting as a piece of history. I like Goldschlage. But this new version really bowled me over. Bailey plays the music very intelligently but also very passionately and with impeccable technique and no squeaks. There's rubato but not too much and he responds to Bach in a hugely satisfying way. His Sarabandes are profoundly moving, yet there is no showing-off or wearing the heart on the sleeve. This set is currently my favourite interpretation."Report Abuse