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Peter Il'yich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840 - 1893)
Variations on a Rococo Theme, op.33 (1876) [17:46]
Pezzo Capriccioso in B minor, op.62 (1888) [6:34]
Nocturne in D minor, op.19/4 (1873) [4:50]
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906 - 1975)
Cello Concerto No.1 in E flat, op.107 (1959) [29:53]
Zuill Bailey (cello)
San Francisco Ballet Orchestra/Martin West
rec. 15-16 February 2007, Skywalker Sound, Marin County, California. DDD
TELARC CD-80724 [60:36]
Experience Classicsonline

Whilst the title of this collection is misleading - none of the Tchaikovsky works could be considered masterpieces - this is a very enjoyable and well presented and played programme.

Tchaikovsky's set of variations is a delightful divertissement, eight variations on a simple theme which cover the whole gamut of expression and use of technique. Bailey is a strong player who characterises each variation well, bringing a delicious personality to the various pieces. His lyrical playing is, by turns, big, rich and beefy and winsome and restrained. He has a wonderful sense of rubato, and knows when to relax and allow the various soloists in the orchestra to take centre-stage. If you need to sample this performance before purchasing the disk, try the final two variations which are heart-breakingly poignant and wildly exuberant respectively. This is a fine performance.

The first half of the Pezzo Capriccioso is far too serious for its own good but once the boisterous high spirits start nothing can get in the way of the forward rush of notes. The heart-on-sleeve melancholy of the Nocturne sits uncomfortably between the high jinks of the Pezzo and the bluff seriousness of the opening movement of the Shostakovich Concerto.

The problem with the Shostakovich violin and cello concertos is that they were written for two of the greatest musicians of the 20th century - David Oistrakh and Mstislav Rostropovich - and they both made definitive recordings of the works so anyone making a new recording of the pieces, and new interpretations of these works are always welcome, has a lot to live up to. Bailey doesn't quite stamp his personality on the first movement; good though he is I feel a little detachment from the music. He is however magnificent in the slow movement, his lyrical bent shining forth and the tragedy of the music being stated simply without any added pathos. This is just about perfect. Bailey handles the third movement cadenza without any show of excessive display. For him it's another movement in the piece which just happens to be unaccompanied and extremely difficult! This is superbly musical playing. The finale is given a rather heavier performance than we are used to but it works. There is a feeling, which I often get from Shostakovich finales, of a desperation with his lot, a need to shake the fist against the world but the composer's essential humanity won't actually allow him to really let go. That is the genius of Shostakovich: he takes us to the edge but never pushes us over.

This is a superb disk, and even if the recording is a touch dry - I would have liked a bit of reverberation to add some warmth to what are excellent performances - it is very clear and precise. Even though there is only one real masterpiece on this disk it is enough, especially when given this thrilling and intelligent treatment.

Bob Briggs




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