A Whole Elgar/Half A Smetana

Review by: Victor Carr Jr

Artistic Quality: 8

Sound Quality: 9

Zuill Bailey’s taut and trim rendering of Elgar’s Cello Concerto is a refreshing break from the usual lugubrious style favored by many cellists. That’s not to say Bailey lacks emotion; on the contrary, he generates much feeling in the somber first movement and especially in the brief, songful Adagio. But he does this while maintaining a flowing pace and avoiding the temptation to wallow in the gloom.

That said, some may prefer the more aggressively emotive approach of Alisa Weilerstein on her recent Decca recording, but Bailey impresses with his impeccable musicianship as well as his emotional communication. Krzysztof Urbański’s clear-eyed and energized conducting reveals the first movement’s baroque influence, while infusing the finale with a winning Elgarian swagger. The recording realistically recreates the sensation of being in a filled concert hall.

If you’re wondering why on earth anyone would couple (half of) Smetana’s Má vlast with the Elgar cello concerto, you’re not alone. However, letting the CD play straight through made for a less jarring experience than anticipated. (If nothing else, Smetana’s sunny music definitely brightened the mood after the Elgar). Urbański leads engaging readings of Vyšehrad, The Moldau and Sárka, played handsomely by the Indianapolis Symphony, even if they don’t equal the best performances of the complete set. Perhaps this is supposed to suffice for those who want to hear more than The Moldau but are not interested in the entire cycle (the first three movements are arguably the best). It’s telling that the CD booklet cover omits any mention of the Smetana—Telarc rightly knows this combination is about as sell-able as pizza and peanut brittle. If that sort of thing is your cup of tea, you’ll enjoy this disc.



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Recording Details:

Reference Recording: Elgar: Du Pre/Barbirolli (EMI); Smetana: Kubelik (DG)


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