in: Reviews

August 26, 2013

Choice Cello Music

by

Zuill Bailey has become an audience favorite during his annual visits to the Maverick Concerts series in Woodstock. On Saturday Bailey drew a Sunday-sized crowd (usually more attendees than Saturday nights) for a program of cello works all connected in some way to Benjamin Britten, this season’s major focus.

The Sonata in G Minor by the obscure English composer Henry Eccles wasn’t written even for cello, but its rationale for being on this program was that Britten was fond of English baroque music. Well, OK, it’s an entertaining if not profound piece. This performance on non-period instruments did feature a bit of embellishment in first movement repeats and a generally vigorous, convincing performance. The Sonata in C for Cello and Piano, Op. 65, by Britten, was written for Mstislav Rostropovich, who premiered and recorded it with the composer at the piano. Its idiom sounds more like Prokofiev than anyone else, except Britten, who created in this piece a technically demanding, musically imaginative work. Its five movements last altogether only about 21 minutes. The overall impression of the music is rather grim, even in the almost-comical Scherzo–Pizzicato, which is particularly demanding for the pianist. Bailey collaborated  with Robert Koenig  in a vivid, powerfully played interpretation which brought all the most grotesque elements of the music to the surface without making it sound too obscure or weird. I was most impressed.

Schubert’s “Arpeggione” Sonata in A Minor, D. 821 (written for that obscure, short-lived instrument) was an entirely appropriate inclusion in this program. Not only did Britten love Schubert’s music, but his performance of it with Rostropovich occupied the flip side of the original LP issue of Britten’s Cello Sonata. The balance between the instruments was fine here, with lots of piano and some normally obscured lines coming out very clearly. While the playing was quite fervent and the cello in the Adagio was gorgeous, overall I found the musicians’ approach to this piece somewhat too vigorous and aggressive. Schubert playing shouldn’t be sleepy, but I like the interpretation and the sound mellower than most of this performance. The musicians could have given me what I wanted, too, since those elements became exactly what I wanted to hear near the end of the last movement. Since they can do it, I wish they had throughout.

I’m not sure what Lukas Foss’s “Capriccio,“ written for Piatigorsky, had to do with Britten, but it’s a fun piece and the performance was thoroughly entertaining. As an encore, Fauré’s “Après un reve” was very smooth and lovely.

Maverick’s Music Director Alexander Platt has been presenting his concerts with increasing amounts of spoken introduction and commentary. Usually I enjoy what he and the musicians have to say. But this program lasted just under two hours altogether, with about an hour of music (I timed it) and a 30 minute intermission. That means we had half an hour of talk, which is, I think, a disproportionate amount.

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

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