in: Reviews

July 29, 2012

A Success, But With Demerits

by

Zuill Bailey has been a regular performer at the Maverick Concerts series in Woodstock for nearly a decade now. His concert today did much to demonstrate why the audience loves him. He is a charming fellow, and his discussions of the music he played were informative and not overdone. His technical command enabled him to meet major challenges with solid success.

Still, this wasn’t Bailey’s best concert. It opened with Bach’s Suite No. 2, in D Minor, for unaccompanied cello. Bailey’s recording of the Bach Cello Suites has been a classical best-seller. He meets the great demands of the music quite well. But it’s not my kind of Bach playing. I could accept the rhapsodic playing of the opening Prelude even if it’s not the style I prefer. But in subsequent movements, he played Bach with rhythmic freedom that seemed almost as though it had been infected by the contemptible Bach style of Bailey’s former performing partner, Simone Dinnerstein. Even in the Allemande, a dance movement in strict rhythm, Bailey indulged in some inappropriate tempo-bending. He played the Courante so rapidly it sounded hectic. He took only first section repeats, and played them verbatim, with none of the embellishments we’ve come to expect as enlightened baroque practice. Bailey’s Bach is not as exaggerated as Dinnerstein’s but it’s too romanticized for me.

Debussy’s Cello Sonata went a lot better. With pianist Robert Koenig, Bailey evoked the music’s Pierrot theme vividly. Some cello details were lost in the last movement, swamped by the piano or not clearly executed by the cellist. Still, this was definitely a success.

Franck’s Sonata in A Major for Violin and Piano (transcribed for cello with the composer’s approval) was something of a mixed experience. The rhythmically relaxed style has my seal of approval. (My reference recording of this work, in its original violin version, is the performance by Albert Spalding, who was a student of the music’s dedicatee Ysaÿe. It’s very free.) So, full credit for interpretation. The execution, however, was more uneven. Bailey told the audience that this was his first performance of the work in public, and his inexperience with it showed in some inaccuracies  in the second movement, in which Koenig also indulged in a considerable amount of faking. Hey, the piano part of this sonata is a bitch, but if you’re going to play it, work hard enough to get almost all of the notes. The third movement was fine, but the finale could have been better coordinated.

The “selections to be announced” turned out to be transcriptions of works by François Francœur and Massenet, both beautifully played, and Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumble Bee,” a real dazzler. The concert may have been a success, but it had more demerits than I expect from these musicians.

Maverick has no Saturday evening concert next weekend, just a children’s folk concert Saturday morning. Sunday afternoon at 3, a pre-concert talk by composer Russell Platt introduces his own music in the 4 p.m. concert. The Amernet String Quartet, soprano Nancy Allen Lundy, violist Yizhak Schotten, and cellist Robert DeMaine will perform Platt’s Transport to Summer on poems of Wallace Stevens. Platt is the twin brother of Maverick’s Music Director Alexander Platt, but I’ve heard his music before and he definitely deserves his place on these concerts. The program also includes Debussy’s String Quartet and Tchaikovsky’s Souvenir de Florence. There’s lots of useful information about this series here.

Leslie Gerber lives in Woodstock, New York. He has been reviewing professionally since 1966, for such venues as Performance Today, Fanfare, and Amazon.com. He also publishes the Parnassus Records label.

1 Comment

  1. Very good point made here about rhythm in the playing of Bach’s music. Expression is wonderful, and the emotional content of music is important — nevertheless even when performed by Ms. Dinnerstein or Mr. Baily, a sarabande isn’t, or isn’t best played as a nocturne.

    Comment by Raro — August 1, 2012 at 3:47 pm

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