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Elgar: Cello Concerto / Bailey, Urbanski

Release Date: 01/15/2013 
Label:  Telarc   Catalog #: 34030   Spars Code: DDD 
Composer:  Sir Edward ElgarBedrich Smetana
Performer:  Zuill Bailey
Conductor:  Krzysztof Urbanski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra
Number of Discs: 1 
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Notes and Editorial Reviews

Zuill Bailey’s taut and trim rendering of Elgar’s Cello Concerto is a refreshing break from the usual lugubrious style favored by many cellists. That’s not to say Bailey lacks emotion; on the contrary, he generates much feeling in the somber first movement and especially in the brief, songful Adagio. But he does this while maintaining a flowing pace and avoiding the temptation to wallow in the gloom.

That said, some may prefer the more aggressively emotive approach of Alisa Weilerstein on her recent Decca recording, but Bailey impresses with his impeccable musicianship as well as his emotional communication. Krzysztof Urbanski’s clear-eyed and energized conducting reveals the first movement’s baroque influence, while infusing
Read more the finale with a winning Elgarian swagger. The recording realistically recreates the sensation of being in a filled concert hall.

If you’re wondering why on earth anyone would couple (half of) Smetana’s Má vlast with the Elgar cello concerto, you’re not alone. However, letting the CD play straight through made for a less jarring experience than anticipated. (If nothing else, Smetana’s sunny music definitely brightened the mood after the Elgar). Urbanski leads engaging readings of Vyšehrad, The Moldau and Sárka, played handsomely by the Indianapolis Symphony, even if they don’t equal the best performances of the complete set. Perhaps this is supposed to suffice for those who want to hear more than The Moldau but are not interested in the entire cycle (the first three movements are arguably the best). It’s telling that the CD booklet cover omits any mention of the Smetana—Telarc rightly knows this combination is about as sell-able as pizza and peanut brittle. If that sort of thing is your cup of tea, you’ll enjoy this disc.

-- Victor Carr Jr, ClassicsToday.com

The conductor Karl Muck told Gregor Piatigorsky that he was the most “scratchless” cellist he had ever heard. Zuill Bailey is a “scratchless” cellist. His tone is beautifully rounded up and down the fingerboard, no matter how busy the passagework. Once, when Yo-Yo Ma found himself in a Mstislav Rostropovich master class, Rostropovich demanded to know, “Where is the center of your tone?” I doubt this is any longer an issue for Ma. It certainly isn’t one for Zuill Bailey. His intonation is spot on, and his sound resonates from a standard of absolute technical security. Edward Elgar’s Concerto places far more than just technical demands on a soloist. It is a complete test of a cellist’s emotional sensitivity and feeling for drama. The piece is nearly cast in the form of a dramatic monologue for the soloist. Bailey’s interpretation is richly fulfilling and totally distinctive. I believe he has been influenced by the 1945 recording by Pablo Casals and Adrian Boult. Bailey’s performance shares Casals’s directness and lack of affectation, although I think Casals finds more drama in the work than Bailey does. Bailey’s version is absolutely aristocratic; he tackles the concerto’s technical and emotional demands without breaking a sweat. It is possible to prefer a more heart-on-sleeve approach to this concerto. For Bailey, every expressive issue in the piece finds a solution in his virtuoso equipment. Only a consummate cellist can play the work this way.

The soloist’s entrance at the beginning of the concerto is sonorous and gorgeously articulated. The first movement’s main theme seems like a cry out of the past. Gentleness characterizes the dialogue between cello and orchestra, which work together hand in glove. The next movement begins with what feels like snatches of Gregorian chant. The subsequent Allegro molto is breathtaking, a mixture of elegance and supreme virtuosity. In the third movement, the performers give us a rich, retrospective look at Elgar the romantic miniaturist, as in his Salut d’amour . Bailey displays passion but with total control, and quiet moments are full of emotion. He opens the final movement like a soul in torment. Urbanski shines in the main section, framing Bailey beautifully. The work concludes with regret and remorse. Other digital recordings of the concerto I like are by Ralph Kirshbaum with Alexander Gibson, Yoohong Lee with Yehudi Menuhin, Alexander Baillie with Edward Downes, Felix Schmidt with Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos, and Arto Noras with Jukka-Pekka Saraste. Bailey’s version fits well in this company, and is rendered distinctive by his extraordinary technical accomplishment.

The first three tone poems of Bedrich Smetana’s Má Vlast might not be an obvious coupling for the concerto, but they do provide a good showpiece for the Indianapolis Symphony. The Moldau receives the finest performance of the three, perhaps because it is the one the orchestra knows best. It opens with lovely flute playing. Urbanski suggests the ebb and flow of the river’s waves with well-judged rubato. There is a deliciously rustic wedding feast, while the waves in the moonlight really shimmer in the violins. Alas, the poem concludes with some rather muddy sounding playing. If you are looking for a complete Má Vlast , I would recommend Nikolaus Harnoncourt and the Vienna Philharmonic or Uwe Mund and the Kyoto Symphony. The former comes with a brilliant thematic analysis by Harnoncourt. The sound engineering on this Telarc CD is full and rich, if rather too close up: a familiar predicament when making a live recording, to diminish the audience noise. Nevertheless, the story here is Zuill Bailey’s performance in the Elgar, a truly distinguished addition to the catalog. Clearly he ranks among our finest cellists.

FANFARE: Dave Saemann
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Works on This Recording

Concerto for Cello in E minor, Op. 85 by Sir Edward Elgar
Performer:  Zuill Bailey (Cello)
Conductor:  Krzysztof Urbanski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1919; England 
Má vlast: no 1, Vysehrad, T 110 by Bedrich Smetana
Conductor:  Krzysztof Urbanski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1872-1879; Czech Republic 
Má vlast: no 2, Moldau, T 111 by Bedrich Smetana
Conductor:  Krzysztof Urbanski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1874; Czech Republic 
Má vlast: no 3, Sárka, T 113 by Bedrich Smetana
Conductor:  Krzysztof Urbanski
Orchestra/Ensemble:  Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra
Period: Romantic 
Written: 1872-1879; Czech Republic 

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