Reviews

 

“Arpeggione,” transcriptions and an original work for cello and guitar – Zuill Bailey, David Leisner

(Azica Records)

What a splendid idea this is, a virtuoso recital for guitar and cello! Most of the items on the program have been transcribed for the self-same genre by David Leisner, and are heard in their première recordings. Leisner, one of the finest guitarists of our time, has made intelligent transcriptions that allow both instruments to be heard to best advantage. At the same time, he knows when to step out of the spotlight in favor of the rich eloquent sound of Zuill Bailey’s cello as it soars to expressive heights that other cellists can only dream of matching. Zuill obviously loves playing his instrument as few people enjoy doing anything else, and the results are abundantly evident in a very attractive program that melds the sounds of two dissimilar string instruments, bowed and strummed, to utter perfection.

The title of the album is taken from Franz Schubert’s Sonata in A minor, D821, known as the “Arpeggione” after a very short-lived instrument of that name that was basically a guitar that was fretted to permit it to be bowed. Schubert knew the inventor and obligingly composed the only masterwork for that decidedly odd instrument that it was ever to enjoy. Today, it is always played in transcription for other instruments, usually for cello but also for viola, clarinet, harp, double bass, and even tuba and euphonium.

The present recording is the 121st in the current catalog, and may be the most satisfying yet in terms of the fine blend and mutual rapport Leisner and Bailey display here. One thrilling moment occurs in the opening movement when the wistfully melancholy cello melody gives way suddenly to a lively and sensational Hungarian dance with thumping chords from the guitar in support. The Adagio, a meditation on a hymn-like subject, is followed by the finale, an allegretto rich in rapturous and charming incidents.

Manuel de Falla’s Seven Spanish Popular Songs is another work that has enriched multiple repertoires besides the original version for soprano voice and piano. The transcription heard here was not solely Leisner’s but is based on the guitar arrangement by Falla’s friend Miguel Llobet and a cello version by Maurice Maréchal. Leisner adapted the melody of the Song Seguidilla murciana from the original vocal line to that of the cello by discretely changing octaves in order to avoid repeated notes. This is one type of Flamenco. Jota (#4) is another. Asturiana (#3) is said to have been sung by miners, grateful at seeing the beauty of the starlit sky after a long underground shift. Nana is a tender lullaby, and Polo a song expressing the anger of a jilted lover. Canción (Song) perhaps lends itself best of all to Bailey’s exalted lyricism.

Next up is the world premiere recording of Leisner’s Twilight Streams, a new work written expressly for himself and Zuill Bailey. The titles show the influence of Chinese philosophy and painting: empty dark, full dark, empty light, full light and adrift at twilight. “Empty” in the oriental sense is not the same as in ours, for it implies a place where all things go to be reborn. As the work progresses, we get a wonderful lift from these artists, as well as a growing sense of freedom.

There follow no fewer than four encores, beginning with Gluck’s Dance of the Blessed Spirits, Saint-Saëns’ The Swan, and the “Aria” from Villa-Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras # 5. All are justly famed for their exalted beauty. At the end, we have the ultimate encore: Niccolò Paganini’s Variations for the fourth string on the aria "Dal tuo stellato soglio" from Mosè in Egitto by Rossini. How the devil you can play this piece, as memorable in musical terms as it is virtuosic, on a single violin or cello string is better seen than described (fortunately, there are several YouTube videos that you can easily access). Finger work, particularly the swooping glides involving widely spaced fingers, is the key to success, more so than bowing. This altogether sensational encore will have you on the edge of your seat!


 

 

NC Symphony Performs Both Double Concerto and Triple Concerto – A Rare Treat

Lisa Marie Mazzucco

Zuill Bailey

Lisa Marie Mazzucco

Philippe Quint

Rob Davidson

Awadagin Pratt


Event  Information

 

Raleigh -- ( Fri., Apr. 15, 2016 - Sat., Apr. 16, 2016 )

North Carolina Symphony: Beethoven Triple & Brahms Double
Performed by North Carolina Symphony (Grant Llewellyn, conductor); Philippe Quint, violin; Zuill Bailey, cello; Awadagin Pratt, piano
$ -- Meymandi Concert Hall at Duke Energy Center for the Performing Arts , (919) 733-2750 , http://www.ncsymphony.org/

 

 

 

 

 

April 16, 2016 - Raleigh, NC:

 


Double concertos are among the least common of genres in the repertoire of Western music, and of course triple concertos are even more rare; it is definitely an uncommon treat to hear both on the same program. This is exactly what the NC Symphony did – with a trio of fantastic and world-renowned soloists, they performed the most well-known triple concerto, Beethoven's Op. 56, and one of the most well-known double concertos, Brahms' Op. 102. The concert was already bound to be fantastic with pianist Awadagin Pratt, violinist Philippe Quint, and cellist Zuill Bailey, but the added element of live recording for future release by Five/Four Productions gave these performances even more weight. This is the NC Symphony's third recording with Bailey. Quint and Pratt have graced the NC Symphony stage many times as well. Previous recordings have soared to the top of the Billboard and New York Times classical charts; this recording is bound to be monumental upon release.

Without three soloists that work seamlessly together, a performance of Beethoven's Triple Concerto for piano, violin, cello, and orchestra would be next to impossible. Of course, this was not a problem for the talented artists and the NC Symphony under the baton of Grant Llewellyn. The concerto is extremely demanding technically, especially in the first movement (Allegro), where frequent passages of rapid patterns are played in harmony between the violin and cello. These patterns require absolute uniformity of expression, executed perfectly by Quint and Bailey. Meanwhile, Pratt's articulations in similar passages were incredibly unwavering too, translating the phrasing to an instrument with a completely different timbre.

The overall theme of the first movement is joyful and decidedly major, with little dissonance. The interplay among the soloists and orchestra was fascinating to behold – there was so much to take in at once, especially in the energetic first movement. The resulting texture is incredibly unique. Most frequently, the theme began with Quint, who traded to Bailey, and then to Pratt; these exchanges seemed effortless despite the necessary amount of concentration and musical engagement required.

The second movement, Largo, gave rise to a mellow and romantic melody; Quint's sense of lyricism and Bailey's articulate expression were especially apparent here. The piano was more independent in this movement, and Pratt's sweeping arpeggios moved gently up and down the keys. The third movement, Rondo alla pollaca, is a delightful romp containing the most energetic material of the work as a whole. The rondo theme is naturally dance-like, reminiscent of the Polish polonaise. Suddenly, triple meter turns to a wildly fast duple, with flying figures traded brilliantly amongst all three soloists. Of course, the rondo theme then returns with an ending of bold, triumphant chords.

Brahms' Concerto in A minor for violin, cello, and orchestra is his last large-scale orchestral work. It contrasts Beethoven's concerto in that there are many changing textures and moods within each movement. In addition, there are more truly cadenza-like solos throughout. The beginning of the Allegro movement is mysterious – a pizzicato cello creates this mood, and the violin has a similar solo shortly after. This movement contains fascinating melodic progression – moving from a solemn and strong mood to capricious major mode and back again. The two soloists frequently exchanged parts of the melody back and forth, and the movement ended grandly with a minor cadence after an increase in urgency and energy.

The second movement, Andante, contains a soaring and falling melody, led by the soloists frequently in unison. This movement, perhaps more than any other, is a kind of music that listeners can let wash over them – it is fully engrossing due to its detail, yet strikingly beautiful. The final movement, Vivace non troppo, is grand and playful, with quickly moving patterns and an accented theme for the rondo. Every time this theme returns, it is more boundless and bolder than the last. For the soloists, this movement was a whirlwind; the violin and cello wove in and out of one another as well as with the orchestra.

The dramatic and breathless ending brought the house immediately to its feet, recognizing the absolute mastery and unparalleled musical sensitivity of all three performers that evening.

 


 

Attending a concert can sometimes feel somewhat artificial: You go to a formal venue to hear musicians engaging in their art, in the company of hundreds (or thousands) of relative strangers — it is a highly contrived and manufactured experience.
 
Last Saturday’s Salon Series concert by the Cypress String Quartet was nothing like that.
 
The performance at the intimate auditorium of the Kanbar Performing Arts Center in San Francisco followed the conventions of a contemporary concert. But with the members of CSQ only inches away from an audience of friends and long-time supporters, the concert’s organic and direct personal impact increased dramatically.
 
CSQ, which consists of Cecily Ward and Tom Stone (violins); Ethan Filner (viola); and Jennifer Kloetzel (cello), had engaged their friends and colleagues Zuill Bailey (cello) and Barry Shiffman (viola) to perform the two string sextets that composer Johannes Brahms created as his Opus 18 and 36. 
 
Brahms wrote these sextets in 1860 and 1864-5 respectively. He was a perfectionist who was extremely self-critical as a composer. In his attempts to compose a string quartet — for many composers the highest and most difficult form of music writing — he found that he needed more options in harmony, color, and symphonic texture to express himself. With two violins, violas, and cellos each, the string sextet gave Brahms enough possibilities: He did not, indeed, publish the first of a total of three string quartets until his Opus 51, in 1873, claiming to have destroyed or abandoned 20 previous attempts.
 
With six hard-working, deeply engaged musicians literally at arm’s length, the atmosphere is thick with vibrating air; you can not only hear the strings resonating, but even feel the sound waves permeate your body, like music by osmosis.With six hard-working, deeply engaged musicians literally at arm’s length, the atmosphere is thick with vibrating air; you can not only hear the strings resonating, but even feel the sound waves permeate your body, like music by osmosis.
 
Also part of the experience is the extraneous sounds that musicians make when playing their instruments: fingers sliding across strings, the soft rustling of clothing or feet moving across the carpet, bodily gestures or intakes of breath for emphasis or phrasing.  
 
And then there are the eyes. Follow the musicians’ eyes and you follow the music and the instruments’ forever changing roles. Within Brahms’ musical fabric, they are constantly shape-shifting, moving from lead voice to rhythmic punctuation or countermelody, sometimes from one note to the next. This is especially prevalent in Opus 36, where Brahms’ writing is even more dense and complex than in the First Sextet, with its more Classical orientation.
 
Needless to say, this performance of both Brahms’ Sextets by “Cypress Plus Two” was one of the finest examples of chamber string ensemble playing I have ever attended; one for the history books and my list of personal favorites.
 
It is unfortunate and at the same time understandable that CSQ has decided to disband after 20 fruitful years of playing together, but most good things must come to an end.
 
Based on last Saturday’s performance and the plans for the months ahead until the farewell concert on June 26, CSQ is going out with a bang.

Native Dutchman Niels Swinkels is a freelance journalist, musicologist, and sound engineer. Before moving to San Francisco, he was the arts editor and senior classical music/opera critic for Brabants Dagblad, a regional daily newspaper in the Netherlands. As a freelance writer and sound engineer, he currently works for San Francisco Opera, KALW Local Public Radio, Elevation Online, Earprint Productions, and others.

- See more at: https://www.sfcv.org/reviews/cypress-string-quartet/cypress-quartet-brahms-by-osmosis#sthash.nbxpKXsc.dpuf

TROY — Friday's concert at the Troy Savings Bank Music Hall was intended as a kind of prelude and kickoff for a weeklong workshop in August on the cello suites of J.S. Bach. But the main attraction was soloist Zuill Bailey. It would be easy to spend a week's time with him, no matter what music he wanted to play and discuss.

 

When Bailey chatted with the audience in between pieces, he was full of likeable good humor and fascinating historical tidbits. But more important was the gorgeous quality of his playing.

He opened, appropriately, with the Bach Cello Suite No. 1, moving through the long lines with a breathless ease and elegance. Practically every phrase had something both intimate and declarative, joyful and heroic.

 

Pianist Navah Perlman joined him for most of the balance of the program. The Brahms Sonata in E Minor, which came next, felt in certain ways like an expansion of the Bach, broader and more romantic, even more entrancing. Actually, in his remarks Bailey managed to reference all of the music on the program back to Bach. There's a lesson there about the primacy of Bach that most every musician would understand.

Perlman seemed a tad restrained in the Brahms, as if she was deliberately keeping one dynamic level down. But her sound as well as her mastery of thick and complicated passages came to the fore after intermission in the Mendelssohn Concert Variations. And in Chopin's Polonaise Brillante the two players showed a fine sense of partnership, sharing the sonic spotlight and exploring the music with a rollicking playfulness.
 

Yet the focus of the night was on the cello, and also on community. To highlight this, Bailey invited three of our region's finest players to join him — Erica Pickhardt, Petia Kassarova, and Andre Laurent O'Neill. They must have found a quick chemistry together, since they added a sizeable work to the program, Max Bruch's "Kol Nidrei." Bailey delivered the searing solo line as the trio supported him, playing the material originally written for full orchestra.

The quartet reassembled and returned to Bach for the evening's finale. It was an arrangement of a Pastorale, and brought to mind the lush and singing piece popularly known as the "Air on the G String."

Judging from this program, the adult students who come together with Bailey in August will be in for quiet an experience. Hopefully, the organizers will provide more opportunities for audiences to share the bliss.

Joseph Dalton is a freelance writer based in Troy.

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