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Won't You Come Home, Zuill Bailey?

available at Amazon
Bach, Cello Suites, Z. Bailey

(released on February 2, 2010)
Telarc TEL-31978-02 | 140'32"

available at Amazon
Beethoven, Complete Works for Cello and Piano, Z. Bailey, S. Dinnerstein

(released on August 25, 2009)
Telarc CD-80740 | 68'46"
American cellist Zuill Bailey will come back to his hometown -- he was born in Alexandria and studied with a cellist from the National Symphony Orchestra and then at Johns Hopkins before going to Juilliard -- this week for a recital (May 4, 7:30 pm) at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater. His program, with the pianist Orion Weiss (who saved the Quatuor Ébène's bacon earlier this year by filling in for one of their ailing players on their American tour), will include music by Beethoven, Mendelssohn, and Brahms, as well as a new work by Roberto Sierra. My thoughts on Bailey's Beethoven appeared in the Washington Post two years ago, in a review of a concert by him and pianist Simone Dinnerstein at the National Gallery of Art. The first disc of his complete Beethoven set with Dinnerstein was released on the Delos label in 2006, but both discs have now finally been released (both recorded in New York in 2005 and 2006) as a set on the Telarc label.

On their WPAS recital Bailey and Weiss will open with the longest of the three sets of cello and piano variations Beethoven composed, a set of twelve in G major on "See, the conqu'ring hero comes" from Handel's oratorio Judas Maccabaeus (WoO 45, from 1796). In many ways the pianist is the star of this piece, so it will likely be quite different with Weiss replacing Dinnerstein in concert. Bailey's Beethoven recording with Dinnerstein is good if not a must-have, the duo's athletic approach leading to a vigorous interpretation with a few overly affected moments. Bailey's tone is generally clear and his attacks crisp and well enunciated, his most objectionable fault coming from an occasional overzealous scrubbing of the strings that leads to a raspy paucity of that tone. No sforzando goes unhammered.

Bailey has also recorded the Bach solo cello suites, a new release he will celebrate tonight at another local concert, in the quirky venue An die Musik LIVE! in Baltimore, with some of the suites. We have written extensively about the suites, a few years ago now, and recordings continue to appear (Sebastian Klinger and many others). In an interview, Bailey described his approach to these pieces, centerpieces of the cello repertoire, as "so personal" that "it changes from day to day." The sound of the recording seems in keeping with his own summation of his interpretation, "a highly expressive Baroque style." The fast movements are mostly rhythmically animated, a metrical regularity underscoring the nature of the dances, while some of the slow movements are too indulgent. The worst sound of all, the deciding factor on so many recordings of the suites, is the sixth suite, on which the best performance ever to reach my ears remains the recording of Bruno Cocset, on a reproduction of a violoncello piccolo specially crafted to the demands of the piece. The tessitura of the work does not really fit the modern cello, and with a dramatically tending performer like Bailey, the temptation to force the sound high on the A string is too much to resist.

Go hear Zuill Bailey for yourself, playing Bach this evening at An die Musik LIVE! in Baltimore (May 1, 8 pm) or in his WPAS recital on Tuesday (May 4, 7:30 pm) at the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.

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