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Walton: Cello Concerto; Strauss: Don Quixote / Zuill Bailey

Release Date: 04/03/2020
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30156
Composer:  Sir William Walton ,  Richard Strauss Performer:  Zuill Bailey ,  Roberto Díaz Conductor:  Grant Llewellyn Orchestra/Ensemble:  North Carolina Symphony

Music Director Grant Llewellyn and the North Carolina Symphony join cellist Zuill Bailey in live performances of the great tone poem Don Quixote by Richard Strauss and William Walton’s rhapsodic cello concerto.

Album Credits:
Recorded live April 5–6, 2019 at Meymandi Concert Hall, Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts, Raleigh, North Carolina.
Produced and Edited by Thomas C. Moore, Five/Four Productions, Ltd. Recorded, Mixed and Mastered by Robert Friedrich, Five/Four Productions, Ltd.
Assistant engineer: Nathaniel Yaffe

Executive Producers: Eric Feidner, Jon Feidner
Art Direction: Jackie Fugere
Design: Cover to Cover Design, Anilda Carrasquillo
Read more Assistant: Renée Oakford

"Discover the Live recording of two masterpieces for orchestra with the cello as the leading soloist, especially when the solo part is played by Zuill Bailey...Cannot be missed! -- Stretto

This latest CD from Zuill Bailey combines one 20th-century work not often performed with a classic tone poem for cello, viola and orchestra from the late 19th century. I give Bailey a lot of credit for moving at least a little outside of his “comfort zone” to play and record the Walton Cello Concerto, which is clearly one of the composer’s finest works. Written in 1956 to a commission by Gregor Piatagorsky, it was premiered by him in Boston on January 25, 1957. The harmonic language used here is much more sophisticated than that of most of Walton’s works from the 1930s and ‘40s, combining some of the harmonic style of Prokofiev and Stravinsky (particularly in his use of the woodwinds). More interestingly, the solo cello part seems to be a continuously moving and developing line of music, and in the first movement, at least, it is much more lyrical and less flashy than most of the familiar cello concertos.

Since lyrical music is one of Bailey’s strengths, this is right up his alley, and I’m happy to report that conductor Grant Llewellyn is with him every step of the way. The second movement is flashier but clearly not “just” a showpiece for the soloist; once again, the music moves and develops in quite interesting and complex ways. Bailey, like Piatagorsky, is a cellist whose forte is a bright, compact tone rather than the lush sounds one associates with Casals, Rostropovich or Colin Carr, thus this music almost sounds as if it were tailored for him. He retains a fullness of tone in the upper range but also brings that compact sound down into the low range as well, creating what one might term a uniform or continuous sound profile. This allows him to project the music emotionally, which he does, without drawing attention to his tone in either range. In short, he acts as a “clear channel” for Walton’s intentions without forcing his own personality on the music, yet, as I say, he puts plenty of feeling into it.

Bailey also uses vibrato in the manner of true 18th-century virtuosi, forsaking it for fast passages while displaying a quick, light vibrato on sustained notes. This exact same approach, then, would serve him well in the Haydn Cello Concerti. The Walton concerto ends with a fairly long theme and variations (13:26), and it is here, oddly enough, that the composer called for some of the more attention-grabbing effects from the soloist, including purposely rough bowing, a bit of portamento and spiccato, particularly in the one variation (which begins around the 5:00 mark) which sounds like a cadenza before moving into an edgy, fast-paced orchestral passage that has a hint of Latin rhythm to it. In the last, slow variation, Bailey finally allows himself to lay into his instrument’s low range to bring out more of its beauty of tone. Llewellyn’s conducting was so good in the Walton concerto that I was really looking forward to the performance of Don Quixote, a piece that requires far more from the orchestra and conductor than mere accompaniment. This piece, often cited as Strauss’ masterpiece, is actually a large concerto grosso for the two instruments and orchestra built in the structure of a tone poem. The most successful recordings are those which had the best soloist-conductor relationship, among them the first complete recording by Italian cellist Enrico Mainardi with Strauss himself conducting, Emanuel Feuermann with Toscanini, Frank Miller with Toscanini (one of the warmest and most beautiful of the Maestro’s later recordings) and Paul Tortelier with Rudolf Kempe. Llewellyn takes a light, relaxed, almost pastoral approach to the music (much like Toscanini in 1953), which I always felt worked better than his faster, edgier approach in 1938 because, after all, this is a portrait of an old, deluded man living in his own imaginary world. But perhaps Llewellyn is a bit too relaxed in the opening section; during the oboe solo, the music loses its forward momentum and just sort of hangs in the air, though the conductor does pick things up again once the tempo increases. Once the soloists enter—Bailey on cello as Quixote and Roberto Diaz on viola as Sancho Panza—the atmosphere of the music subtly changes, which in turn leads to a drastic change as the orchestra depicts the Don’s “heroic deeds.” At this point, Llewellyn fully enters the spirit of the score, becoming more and more engaged as the narrative continues, and our two soloists also give more of themselves. Nonetheless, I couldn’t shake the feeling that the conductor and orchestra (but not the soloists) sort of went in and out of musical focus. It’s one thing to conduct a certain passage slowly for effect—both Kempe and late Toscanini did this—and quite another to let the rhythm slacken and threaten to collapse. Unfortunately, Llewellyn is not alone in doing this sort of thing. It’s a new style of conducting that permeates too much of the musical landscape, and I for one am not fond of it.

-- Lynn René Bayley, Art Music Lounge

Even with the overall sparsity of music for solo cello, the pairing here seems to be unique. Cellist Zuill Bailey and the North Carolina Symphony Orchestra under Grant Llewellyn combine William Walton's Cello Concerto with Richard Strauss' Don Quixote, Op. 35, a nifty combination of tone poem and concerto for cello and viola. The Walton work is much more often joined to the Elgar Cello Concerto in E minor, Op. 85, a very different work, but here, the Cello Concerto from Walton's later years, with a pair of thoughtful slow movements flanking an Allegro appassionato, finds an ideal match in Strauss' often gently comic Don Quixote, with its army of sheep and other delights. The cello represents the Don himself, with the viola (Roberto Díaz) and other instruments stepping into the role of sidekick Sancho Panza. The Walton concerto is an ideal vehicle for cellist Bailey, who grew up listening to Mstislav Rostropovich, a champion of this work; his big-hearted style may bring that Russian master to mind. The Strauss is a little less successful. The North Carolina Symphony is not the Berlin Philharmonic, but Bailey and Díaz are suitably lively, and the spirit of the work comes through. The performances were recorded live at the orchestra's home in Durham in 2019 and benefit from the spontaneity, though there are few distracting audience noises.

-- AllMusic Guide

Here are two excellent works that stretch their soloist mightily. Walton’s concerto (1957), for all its modernism, has a wealth of beautiful sounds. If his later compositions have been criticized as dry, this is anything but that. Some of its more exquisite sonorities recall the better movie tracks of Korngold. Walton himself was a superb film composer. As much as the more familiar Strauss, the Walton asks for dramatic mood changes. In both works, cellist Zuill Bailey handles his part not only with technical skill, but with a full range of expression, exploiting the instrument’s huge range. He also plays with good tone and phrasing and a firm grasp of the linear continuity both masterpieces need. In Don Quixote, violist Roberto Diaz is a worthy companion. His rich tone makes you realize how crucial this underrated instrument is to the narrative in Strauss’s tone poem. The North Carolina Symphony is very good, supported by a recording that lets you hear plenty of detail. I didn’t realize that this Raleigh-based orchestra has been around for nearly 90 years. Grant Llewellyn leads both pieces with flexible, yet disciplined tempos best suited to enhance their structure. Both performances are from concerts, but the audience is noiseless—Southern good manners. There are many good CDs of these pieces, but anyone who gets this one will be happy. People may buy it for the Strauss, but they’ll stay for the Walton.

-- Don O’Connor, American Record Guide Read less