Brahms: Works for Cello and Piano (CD review)

Zuill Bailey, cello; Awadagin Pratt, piano. Telarc TEL-32664-02.

The collaboration of Zuill Bailey, cello, and Awadagin Pratt, piano, two well-known and highly accomplished musicians, suits the works of Johannes Brahms (1833-1897) especially well. The two men have been friends since college and have performed together on numerous occasions, so they have an instinctive feel for combining the right energies in the composer's music. On the present disc, they perform several of Brahms's longer pieces for cello and piano, as well as several shorter songs transcribed for the instruments. The compositions cover most of Brahms's career and explore his varied temperaments, with the two players adapting their style impeccably to each occasion.

The program begins with Lerchengesang ("Lark Song," 1876), a brief but lovely piece, light and airy as a bird in flight or in song. It's an apt preface to the early Sonata No. 1 in E Minor, Op. 38 (1865) that follows. The Sonata is a three-movement affair, Brahms having thrown out the slow section on the advice of Clara Schumann. It's a mellow, melancholy work in a lyrical mood. Bailey and Pratt play the piece with great passion, yet with great sensitivity, too. The dynamic contrasts alone give you an idea of the work's power and the artists' joy in performing it.

Next, we get a series of shorter pieces, songs mainly, arranged for cello and piano. They start with Feldeinsamkeit ("Solitude in the Fields," 1879), which continues the somewhat melancholy tone of the preceding Sonata, aided by the cello's inherently sonorous sounds. Next is Wie Melodien ("As Melodies," 1886), clearly more melodic, more sweetly poetic in its rhythms than the previous numbers. After that, there is Sapphische Ode ("Sapphic Ode," 1884), describing not what you may think but a verse scheme. Liebestreu ("True Love," 1853) comes next, a particularly passionate little work; then Sonatensatz (1853), actually a violin sonata by Brahms, Robert Schumann, and Albert Dietrich, here adapted for cello and piano; and Minnelied ("Love Song," 1877), which expresses the radiance of young love.

Brahms composed his Sonata in F Major, Op. 99 (1886) in a more traditional four-movement arrangement, and it shows the effects of maturity on the composer's music. Not that that is necessarily a good thing, as the piece begins in a much more-agitated fashion than his earlier Sonata. Still, it rises above a surly introduction to achieve a lofty bravura and a tender spirit as it goes along, the performers always in harmonic and interpretive accord with the music and with each other.

The disc ends with Brahms's famous Wiegenlied ("Lullaby," 1868). You wouldn't think so familiar a tune could sound so fresh, but these fellows make it come to life once more in a most affecting manner. It concludes the program sweetly and gently--ironically, on the freshest of all possible levels.

Telarc recorded the album at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Oberlin, Ohio, in 2010. They miked the performers fairly closely, producing a relatively big sound from only the two instruments yet creating a realistically smooth and reverberant sound. While it hasn't quite the lucidity one might expect, it is nonetheless most natural if played back at an appropriate level. It's a luxuriant, well-upholstered sound that nicely complements the rich, resonant sonorities of the music.


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John J. Puccio

John J. Puccio

About the Author

Understand, I'm just an everyday guy reacting to something I love. And I've been doing it for a very long time, my appreciation for classical music starting with the musical excerpts on The Big John and Sparkie radio show in the early Fifties and the purchase of my first recording, The 101 Strings Play the Classics, around 1956. In the late Sixties I began teaching high school English and Film Studies as well as becoming interested in hi-fi, my audio ambitions graduating me from a pair of AR-3 speakers to the Fulton J's recommended by The Stereophile's J. Gordon Holt. In the early Seventies, I began writing for a number of audio magazines, including Audio Excellence, Audio Forum, The Boston Audio Society Speaker, The American Record Guide, and from 1976 until 2008, The $ensible Sound, for which I served as Classical Music Editor.

Today, I'm retired from teaching and use a pair of bi-amped VMPS RM40s loudspeakers for my listening. In addition to writing the Classical Candor blog, I served as the Movie Review Editor for the Web site Movie Metropolis (formerly DVDTown) from 1997-2013. Music and movies. Life couldn't be better.

Mission Statement

It is the goal of Classical Candor to promote the enjoyment of classical music. Other forms of music come and go--minuets, waltzes, ragtime, blues, jazz, bebop, country-western, rock-'n'-roll, heavy metal, rap, and the rest--but classical music has been around for hundreds of years and will continue to be around for hundreds more. It's no accident that every major city in the world has one or more symphony orchestras.

When I was young, I heard it said that only intellectuals could appreciate classical music, that it required dedicated concentration to appreciate. Nonsense. I'm no intellectual, and I've always loved classical music. Anyone who's ever seen and enjoyed Disney's Fantasia or a Looney Tunes cartoon playing Rossini's William Tell Overture or Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 2 can attest to the power and joy of classical music, and that's just about everybody.

So, if Classical Candor can expand one's awareness of classical music and bring more joy to one's life, more power to it. It's done its job.

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"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa

"Their Master's Voice" by Michael Sowa