BRAHMS: Works for Cello and Piano = Lerchengesang, Op. 70, No. 2; Sonata in E Minor, Op. 38; Feldseinsamkeit, Op. 86, No. 2; Wie Melodien, Op. 105, No. 1; Sapphische Ode, Op. 94, No. 4; Liebestreu, Op. 3, No. 1; Sonata-Movement; Minnelied, Op. 71, No. 5; Sonata in F Major, Op. 99; Wiegenlied, Op. 49, No. 15 – Zuill Bailey, cello/Awadagin Pratt, piano
Telarc TEL-32664-02, 76:51 [Distr. by Concord Music] ****:
Cellist Zuill Bailey and collaborator Awadagin Pratt perform–at Oberlin Conservatory’s Clonick Hall, September 2010–the two “official” works by Johannes Brahms for solo cello and piano and a series of lieder transcriptions, including the 1853 Scherzo in C Minor composed for a joint-venture violin sonata shared by Robert Schumann and Albert Dietrich. Performing on a 1693 instrument crafted by Matteo Gofriller, Bailey makes a vividly lyric impression as a purveyor of the Brahms style.
Bailey opens with the “Lark Song” by Brahms, whose piano part sidles ethereally in the manner of the later intermezzos from Op. 117 and 119. The lied provides a kind of preparation for the dark-hued 1865 E Minor that follows, its low register exploited to create melodies of ballade-like power. Rarely does Bailey’s cello extend beyond the tenor register, and so the affect resembles that of a Baroque trio-sonata, given the piano’s separation of treble and bass parts. The first movement, taken in extremely broad strokes by Bailey and Pratt, the ruminative episodes serve to replace the “missing” slow movement in this piece. The rather manic sequences soon assume a gargantuan heft through the ministrations of our soloists, relenting only in the late pages as they transition to the cascading arpeggios to the colorful recapitulation. The neo-Classic Allegretto quasi Menuetto pays homage to the courtly life of Haydn or Boccherini, but its lilting phrases in sliding metrics–and broken-style riffs in the trio section–clearly embrace the nostalgic Romanticism endemic in Brahms. Pianist Pratt’s inclination for the fugal writing of J.S. Bach proves apt for the finale of the E Minor Sonata, an attempt by Brahms to imitate aspects of Bach’s The Art of Fugue. Even within the firm constraints of contrapuntal procedure, Bailey’s lyrically sweet tone exerts its capacity for song.
A quick foil to the superheated E Minor Sonata finale, the “Solitude in the Fields” from Op. 86 plays as wistful love song to Nature, akin to the sentiments in the first movement of Mahler’s D Major Symphony. The Wie Melodien from Op. 105 (1886) shares the autumnal affect we hear in the so-called “Thun” Violin Sonata, Op. 100. Sappho’s love song (1884) swells with mature sensuality, the keyboard’s maintaining a rocking pulse even as the harmonies melt in veiled conceits not far from Mallarme’s poetic universe. “True Love” (1853) offers an early Brahms song in which the stern cello line assumes the voice of a mother’s pleas for her daughter to abandon an unhealthy infatuation. The Scherzo from the FAE Sonata adapts easily to Bailey’s alternately breezy an rasping cello line, the fires identifiable as among the early Brahms efforts that fuse Beethoven’s Fifth motto, Schumann’s harmony, and his own stormy impulses. Another tender foil appears, here the Minnelied, Op. 71, No. 5, an ardent love song whose simple lilt would appeal to Elgar. The perennial Wiegenlied of 1868 maintains its beguiling charm, a magical evocation of innocence.
The 1887 F Major Sonata’s Herculean gestures open in the high soprano register, but the affect is no less prone to dip into the darker furors of the heart. The potent tremolos from the keyboard contribute to the assertive character of the development of each of the first movement’s three themes, of which the F-sharp Minor development becomes quite heated, another of the composer‘s “veiled symphonies.” Bailey and Pratt pull out the stops to ensure the undiluted espressivo in which they engage. A broadly resonant theme from Pratt underlines Bailey’s pizzicato notes for the beginning of the F-sharp Major Adagio. A lovely soprano melody wafts into space, especially glowing in this performance. A plunge into F Minor marks the darkly-animated central episode. Bailey’s pizzicati soon communicate as much angst as they had freedom. By the late pages, those same pizzicati might convey autumnal, rainy-day regrets. The metrically-shifting powerful Allegro passionato finds some balance for its martial cast in its sweet trio section. The relatively blithe Allegro molto finale could play as an anticlimax to the previous movements, but the directly expressivity of the playing exonerates Brahms of any glibness; and the dark color of the middle portion makes a claim on our reverence for unabashed pathos. The F-sharp Major evolution proves radiant, as this disc has been from the outset.
— Gary Lemco
Symphonic Poems by Sibelius