RECORDING OF THE MONTH
Antonín DVOŘÁK (1840-1904)
Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104 (1894-95) [40:01]
The Water Goblin, Op. 107 (1896) [20:42]
In Nature’s Realm, Op. 91 (1891-92) [14:46]
Zuill Bailey (cello)
Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra/Jun Märkl
rec. live, 3-5 February 2011, Hilbert Circle Theatre, Indianapolis, Indiana,
TELARC TEL-32927-02 [75:30]
When I reviewed the Supraphon recording of Dvořák’s cello
and orchestra works with cellist Tomáš Jamník, I was rather
underwhelmed. I found that his account could have used a good shot of adrenalin.
I was equally surprised that this new recording has everything that the Jamník
lacked. I had been impressed before by Zuill Bailey’s playing, but was
not prepared for the outstanding account of the great Dvořák concerto
he gives here. Furthermore, I had not heard the Indianapolis Symphony for many
years and my memory was that it was a good, second-tier orchestra, but hardly
one of America’s leading ensembles. This recording, while not perfect,
has vastly altered my opinion. From the majestic orchestral introduction you
know you are in for a real treat. Märkl and Bailey interpret the work as
a big, Romantic piece which is not how I generally see it. My touchstone has
always been the patrician account by Pierre Fournier with George Szell and the
Berlin Philharmonic. I have found that most of the “big, Romantic”
interpretations wind up mauling the concerto with undue ritards and accelerandos.
The present team really makes their view work for me so that while you are listening,
there seems to be no other way the concerto should go.
This recording was taken from a live concert, and the spontaneity of this account
is such that any minor blemishes count for little or nothing. In general the
orchestra plays superbly with outstanding brass and warm, rich strings. Märkl
has the measure of the score and his use of rubato is natural and convincing.
His tempos are spot-on and he does not deflate the music when it is not storming
the heavens. The horn solo in the first movement is beautiful, with just a touch
of vibrato, even if the oboe that precedes it sounds a shade tentative. After
this the oboe is just fine as are the clarinet and flute in their many solo
passages. When the cello enters, Zuill Bailey does so commandingly with a big,
burnished tone. Sure, he slows down for the cello’s lyrical second theme,
but it is not unduly drawn out as usually happens in such performances. His
fast passages, on the other hand, are clearer and more precise than I ever remember
hearing them. The orchestra then brings the movement to a close dramatically
without any undue ritard. Terrific!
The second movement is also beautifully done. The woodwind chorale at the beginning
is blended well with excellent clarinet and oboe, and the cello then enters
most sensitively. The second theme is as powerful and weighty as one would expect.
The cello solo is ardent and fulsome, though the clarinet that accompanies it
could be more prominent. The horn trio near the close is superb, well blended
and in tune, and the trombones underpinning the cello at the end of the movement
are most impressive. Märkl sets a good, marching tempo for the third movement
and the cello enters incisively. The high cello and violin before the orchestral
outburst leading to the coda are again most subtly and beautifully played, as
is the brass chorale. The orchestra then rises out of the musings to end the
work in a blaze of glory. If only Märkl hadn’t sped up as if to rush
to the finish line - really my only criticism of the interpretation in general.
The audience was obviously blown away by the performance, based on the enthusiastic
applause. I think Telarc was justified in leaving it in the recording. You just
want to cheer along with them.
I will still go back to Fournier and Szell for my ultimate Dvořák
Cello Concerto experience, but whenever I want to hear another kind of interpretation
it will be this one by Zuill Bailey and Jun Märkl. It has taken the Angelica
May/Vaclav Neumann recording down a notch in my estimation. That was a favorite
more for the orchestral performance than the cellist’s anyway. The Telarc
recording is also everything one has come to expect of the label - a full, rousing
sound with plenty of detail present, especially considering it is a live recording.
The other two works on the disc are more than mere fillers. While each of them
belongs to a series of compositions, they stand-alone and are usually performed
as individual works. Both In Nature’s Realm and The Water Goblin
demonstrate Märkl’s Dvořák credentials well. He seems
to have a natural feel for this music and the orchestra leaves little to be
desired in terms of execution and idiomatic spirit. The overture is relaxed
and sunny, though it has its darker moments as well. The tone poem has all the
power and lyricism appropriate to it. Special mention should be made of the
English horn solo near the end of The Water Goblin. According to the
notes, all three works were recorded in concert. If so, there is no indication
of an audience present for the two purely orchestral works and no applause.
The attractive booklet with color photos has more than adequate notes on the
works and extensive ones on the artists, including a complete list of the orchestra’s
With so many recordings of the Cello Concerto available, everyone will have
his/her own favorite, but I urge you to hear this new account as well. It should
greatly add to your appreciation of the piece. The whole program, though, is
Bailey’s new account of the Dvořák concerto is among the best
in recent years.