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Schumann: Cello Concerto; Brahms: Double Concerto / Zuill Bailey

Release Date: 09/06/2019
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30123
Composer:  Robert Schumann ,  Johannes Brahms ,  Ernest Bloch ,  Max Bruch Performer:  Zuill Bailey ,  Philippe Quint Conductor:  Robin O'Neill ,  Grant Llewellyn Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonia Orchestra ,  North Carolina Symphony

Cellist Zuill Bailey's new album is a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Wimbledon International Music Festival, where he has often appeared. It includes gripping performances of the Schumann Cello Concerto and the Brahms Double Concerto with violinist Philippe Quint.

R E V I E W S:

Zuill Bailey, one of my favorite cellists—his recording of the Beethoven Sonatas with Simone Dinnerstein is, in my view, the best ever—here presents one of the real gems of the classical literature, the Schumann Concerto, along with the Brahms “Double” and short pieces by Bloch and Bruch.

His approach to the former, conducted by Robin O’Neill with the Philharmonia Orchestra, is quite different from the
Read more performance by Jacqueline du Pré with Leonard Bernstein and even from that by Oren Shevlin with Heinz Holliger in Audite’s set of Schumann’s complete orchestral music. With his compact but warm tone and expressive playing, he is more emotional than Shevlin but not quite as overwhelming as du Pré, but part of this is conditioned by his accompaniment. O’Neill’s pacing and shaping of the work is more direct and linear than Bernstein, who was possibly the most hyper-emotional and overwrought conductor of all time, but not as crisp and compact as Holliger, and this in turn influences Bailey’s approach. He works within the framework of the conductor’s vision, and does so in a way that recalls, at least for me, Emanuel Feuermann although Feuermann never recorded this specific work (although he did record Schumann’s Zigeunerlieben). Bailey has a similar compact tone, using a quick vibrato, equally adroit fingering, and an approach that satisfies emotionally without going over the top. I found that I liked it nearly as much as du Pré and better than Shevlin.

The sound profile of the Philharmonia has certainly changed over the years. From the time of its inception in 1946 until at least the mid-1980s, their hallmark sound was a rare combination of warmth and clarity. Under the best conductors one could hear every strand of the music, yet their characteristic warmth was always there as well. What I hear in this recording is a more compact sound—one might say, in comparison with older orchestras, Szell’s Cleveland Orchestra of the 1960s. It’s a good sound, but not as individual.

Both O’Neill and Bailey make something special of the second movement, however, again without overdoing the emotion but not sparing it either. I was quite happy to hear this kind of performance, as I felt that some of the conductors Bailey has worked with on past recordings (i.e., Jun Märkl) were not entirely sympathetic to his aesthetic. Both approach the third movement in an almost playful manner, which suits the music very well.

Yet as good as this performance is, it sounds like a warmup for what follows: a live performance of the Brahms Double Concerto with violinist Philippe Quint and the astonishingly excellent North Carolina Symphony. Although there is a bit more relaxation than I like in the soloists’ first duo-cadenza, this is a taut reading that pulls the structure of the work together brilliantly. Conductor Grant Llewellyn draws an even more emotional and powerful reading from his forces than O’Neill did in the Schumann, and that surprised me quite a bit. When Quint re-enters to join Bailey, the two of them are performing at a peak level of emotion. and the effect is wonderful. Bailey’s pacing and shaping of the music is extraordinary, allowing you to hear the structure of the music as well as its emotional effect. The Quint-Bailey duo’s entrance in the second movement is sheer perfection, both in terms of balancing the instruments and musical expression. The last movement is just a shade slower than I like it, but effective nonetheless.

The Bloch Prayer, also accompanied by O’Neill and the Philharmonia, is one of those nice Jewish pieces that cellists like to play. Bruch’s Kol Nidrei, though similar on the face of it, is actually a more interesting work. In this one piece, however, I felt that O’Neill’s conducting was just a bit too cool and detached, though Bailey is not.

Overall, however, this is clearly one of Bailey’s finest albums to date, one that shows him in a number of Romantic settings.

-- Art Music Lounge

Born in 1972, the Grammy Award-winning cellist Zuill Bailey has a distinguished career as a soloist, chamber player and teacher in the US and Canada. But he also has an established relationship with the Wimbledon International Music Festival – the tenth anniversary of which this recording is released to celebrate.

The Schumann Concerto, performed in the 2018 festival together with the two short meditations on Jewish themes by Ernst Bloch and Max Bruch come from London sessions with the Philharmonia under Robin O’Neill – who also orchestrated the Bloch from the cello and piano original.

The Brahms Double Concerto, however, taken ‘live’ from a 2016 concert in Raleigh, North Carolina, proves the most rewarding performance on the disc. This is thanks to Grant Llewellyn’s sample tempos, the glowing response from the North Carolina Symphony winds the intimate rapport between Bailey and solo violinist Philippe Quint and the evident affection of all concerned for this last and most amiable of Brahms’s concertos.

Bailey responds with equal eloquence and sensitivity to the tender austerity of Schumann’s late, innovatory if slightly strange Cello Concerto, and to the sorrow and consolation of Bruch Kol Nidrei. The recording captures every nuance of his mature-toned 1693 Matteo Goffriller cello, but the Philharmonia sounds a little dry and confined in the ambience of the Henry Wood Rehearsal Hall, which is a pity.

How this string-focused disc comes to be issued on the label of a leading piano firm goes unexplained.

-- Bayan Northcott, BBC Music Magazine

Zuill Bailey is the featured artist on a new Steinway & Sons release that celebrates the America cellist’s long association with London’s Wimbledon International Music Festival, founded in 2009. In November of 2018, Bailey performed the Cello Concerto by Robert Schumann at the Festival, joined by the Philharmonia Orchestra and conductor Robin O’Neill (also the Orchestra’s principal bassoon). Following the concert, those same artists recorded the Schumann at London’s Henry Wood Hall, along with O’Neill’s orchestration of Ernest Bloch’s “Prayer,” of From Jewish Life, and Max Bruch’s Kol Nidre. To round out the CD, Steinway & Sons adds a 2016 in-concert recording of the Brahms Double Concerto, with Bailey, violinist Phillipe Quint, the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra, and conductor Grant Llewellyn. Bailey, a superb cellist, shines in these recordings. Bailey’s tone may be more compact than some other renowned cellists, but it is no less beautiful for that. His technique and intonation are impeccable, and like all great instrumentalists, he phrases with the beauty, legato, and expressiveness of the finest singers. These are qualities that are consistent throughout all the works on this recording.

The Schumann Concerto is not the easiest work to bring off. It takes a keen ear on the part of both the conductor and soloist for the instrumental balances to work properly. And in the hands of lesser artists, the concerto has the potential to meander at times. But there’s a reason cellists adore the Schumann, including Pablo Casals, who described the concerto as “one of the finest works one can hear—from beginning to end the music is sublime.” For the better part, the performance on this recording hits all the marks. Bailey plays sublimely, and O’Neill and the Philharmonia are very much in sync with him. I did wish for a bit more heft and energy in the orchestral tuttis of the opening movement, but such matters improved greatly in the finale. Bailey plays the Piatigorsky cadenza in that movement. The other two recordings with O’Neill and the Philharmonia are likewise successful. Bloch’s “Prayer,” originally scored for cello and piano, is featured here in a lovely arrangement by Robin O’Neill. It is an apt complement to Bruch’s Kol Nidrei. In both works, the soloist assumes the role of cantor, and Bailey does not disappoint, performing the music with intense feeling, patrician phrasing, and a marvelously focused, lovely singing tone. The orchestral accompaniments are likewise admirable.

Although the Brahms Double Concerto was recorded in performance, I heard no trace of the audience during the music. No applause is retained after the performance’s conclusion. Here, Bailey is joined by violinist Phillippe Quint, another first-rate artist. Both are in top form, and ever attentive to the conversational nature of Brahms’s writing for the two soloists. Grant Llewellyn leads a performance of considerable energy and intensity. Among Brahms’s concertos for solo instrument(s) and orchestra, the Double is the one that least spotlights the orchestra. Still, the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra acquits itself in fine fashion. It’s nice once in a while to be reminded that the rich orchestral life in the United States extends beyond the usual, most famous suspects.

The recorded sound for all performances is excellent, with the soloists slightly more closely miked in the Brahms than elsewhere. Admirers of Zuill Bailey need not hesitate. And while I can’t say any of the performances here moves to the top of the list of recordings, all more than do justice to the works at hand. Recommended.

-- Ken Meltzer, Fanfare

This CD has two sources: Brahms’s concerto was recorded in a concert with the NC Symphony in Raleigh (2016), and the others were done in London in 2018. The Brahms is undoubtedly the finest work on this program, but I found it the least impressive. Bailey and his partner Philippe Quint have complete control of the piece, and the NC Symphony plays well; but small slips here and there combined with sonics that seem “contained” make it difficult to prefer this to rivals. The Schumann concerto, though, is seldom heard; it was in fact not performed during the composer’s lifetime and lacked acceptance until Casals took it up in the 20th Century. It suffers because the orchestral part is somewhat undernourished—Schumann wrote the piece is less than a month—but it’s a lovely work for the soloist. Here Bailey plays beautifully, particularly in soft passages way up on the A string; his ability to play sweetly without undue force or intensity is captivating, and I quickly forgot any weaknesses in the piece itself. In the finale he plays the Piatigorsky cadenza, which makes a wonderful showy conclusion. The two shorter pieces are just as impressive. Both require lots of dreamy, atmospheric playing, which Bailey supplies in abundance. The Bloch ‘Prayer’, by the way, is the first movement of his From Jewish Life for cello and piano (1924), here orchestrated by conductor Robin O’Neill. Both this and the Kol Nidrei are beautifully done, with fine accompaniment from the Philharmonia. I would also point out that I reviewed Bailey’s recording of the Dvorak concerto, and I said he was a name to watch. I’ve heard him since (Brahms sextets with the Cypress Quartet) and think I was “spot on”.

-- Paul L. Althouse, American Record Guide Read less