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Camille SAINT-SAËNS (1835-1921)
Cello Concerto No. 1 in A Minor Op. 33 (1872) [19:57]
Cello Concerto No. 2 in D Minor Op. 119 (1902) [18:05]
“The Swan” from “The Carnival of the Animals” (1886) [2:55]
Jules MASSENET (1842-1912)
Meditation from “Thaïs” (1893) [5:30]
Zuill Bailey (cello)
Roanoke Symphony Orchestra/David Wiley
rec. live, Roanoke Performing Arts Theatre, 17 October 2005
DELOS DE 3378 [46:27] 

It is a great pity that a combination of soloist and orchestra that are far from well known, together with a playing time that is far from generous, is likely greatly to reduce the number of people attracted by this disc. 

There are many recordings of the two concertos, including several on bargain labels, with better known performers and including additional music. It is perhaps better to regard this as a kind of calling card for the performers, who I very much look forward to hearing again. 

The soloist, Zuill Bailey, has already made a number of recordings, including Beethoven Cello Sonatas and the Korngold Concerto, but appears from the notes to spend much of his time playing chamber music, mainly in the United States. The main characteristic of his performances on this disc is indeed that of restraint, and the ability – and, unusually, the desire – to play quietly when called for, and to emphasize the elegance of the music. Fortunately these are very much the main needs for good performances of these works. I don’t want to suggest any absence of virtuosity when called for, but Zuill Bailey does seem concerned above all with the presentation of the music in the best light rather than with exhibiting his undoubted technical abilities or the quality of his tone. As a result music which can seem somewhat relentless in the hands of “starrier” performers shows itself to be both graceful and varied. 

I have to admit to having to look at a map to find out where Roanoke is - just east of the Appalachians in Virginia - and to being pleasantly surprised at what an accomplished orchestra they have. Admittedly there is not a lot for them to do in these pieces, but they are clearly well rehearsed and conducted, They work well with the soloist, resulting in very enjoyable and musical performances of both the main works. 

Although the label and CD announce prominently that these are live performances, the only sign of that is applause and whistling at the end of the two concertos. The recording is clear, if a little dry, and with the soloist somewhat too far forward. Earlier recordings have certainly been worse in this respect, but it is wholly unnecessary and does obscure the composer’s skill in scoring them so that the soloist would be heard adequately in normal concert hall performance. 

The two “encores” (if they were – there is no applause after them) go reasonably well. The Massenet has suffered worse indignities than transcription for cello, and “The Swan” is accompanied by a harp. Both are satisfactory, but neither really adds much to the attractions of the disc, and it is very disappointing that a more substantial work could not have been added, both for the listener’s enjoyment and to encourage more people to buy such an enjoyable disc. 

John Sheppard




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