Zuill Bailey launches into the opening phrase of the Elgar concerto
in emphatic style. After this the emotional temperature of the movement
seems to drop a little, with the first subject in the Moderato
having quite a self-contained feel. I once read a comment about this
tune to the effect that it should sound like someone walking easily
into an unfamiliar landscape. Bailey captures this feeling to perfection,
playing with beautiful tone and seamless legato phrasing. Urbanski
produces a similarly refined contribution from the orchestra, with
the tuttis being particularly smoothly launched; I could have done
with a bit more grip from the brass. The transition from the Lento
to the Allegro molto is ably done, with good rapport between
the conductor and soloist. Bailey always sounds totally in control
- never making an ugly sound. The Adagio begins in a mood
of tender reverence. This movement is both mourning and celebratory,
and Bailey and Urbanski handle its delicate mood most sensitively.
The war-machine music brings some deliberately forced tone from Bailey,
and he plays the extended arpeggio passage with terrific power. The
orchestral interjections are vital yet refined, avoiding the brassy
glare that sometimes arises from Elgar’s scores. Bailey achieves great
inwardness in the slow lamenting passage, surely one of the most moving
ever written for the cello. The return of the opening theme has real
anger, plunging into the headlong coda with thrilling effect.
This is a really interesting and quite nuanced performance of one
of the masterpieces of the cello repertoire. The opening movement
may at first seem a bit cool, but Bailey and Urbanski capture the
very British reserve that is an important facet of Elgar’s style.
Starting off in a low-key fashion also allows them to ratchet up the
intensity as they proceed, and they really go for it in the finale.
I certainly got much more out of this performance than I did from
Peter Wispelwey’s, which to me did not communicate on an emotional
level at all. Those who find du Pré a bit overwrought, on the other
hand, will probably find in Bailey an ideal middle ground. His technique
is clearly formidable, and his rich yet penetrating tone is well captured
by the Telarc engineers. Cello aficionados will be interested to hear
that his instrument is a Matteo Gofriller from 1693. He is a little
forward in the balance, but not excessively so, and Urbanski is a
sensitive accompanist who also gives the orchestra its head in the
tuttis. The performance was given live, at an unspecified date, presumably
in the Hilbert Circle Theatre, Indianapolis. Whatever the venue, the
acoustic has a pleasant woodiness, with rather boomy timpani sound.
The audience is entirely silent throughout, only revealing its presence
through the rather tepid applause at the end. The citizens of Indianapolis
must be well served for live music!
The four excerpts from Smetana’s Ma Vlast are also very well
played. The harp is nicely resonant in Vyšehrad, and Vltava
is a little more expansive than Talich’s classic recording with the
Czech Philharmonic. These performances, also live, pointed up some
surprising echoes of Wagner in Smetana’s orchestral writing, both
in terms of scoring, and in the development of the musical argument.
The orchestra plays responsively throughout, with a sophistication
and polish that feel quite European. I was not quite sure what to
make of this coupling. Those wanting Ma Vlast will go for
one of the numerous complete recordings, but it certainly is an impressive
showcase for the Indianapolis orchestra.
A performance of the Elgar cello concerto that is thoughtful and rich
See also review by John