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.