Music of Barber, Copland, Bernstein, and Foss. Zuill Bailey, cello; Lara Downes, piano. Steinway & Sons 30025.
What more could you ask for than a collaboration between preeminent cellist Zuill Bailey and innovative pianist Lara Downes? I've admired their work separately for several years already, and now they've produced an album together.
For the present album of tunes by Barber, Copland, Bernstein, and Foss, Mr. Bailey plays a 1693 Mateo Goffriller cello and Ms. Downes a Steinway Model D, so not only do we get a couple of the finest musicians in the world playing the music, they do it on a couple of the finest musical instruments possible. Kind of a two-for-one deal, which isn't even counting the superb quality of the music itself. And just to make myself clear, the music, the performances, and the sound are extraordinary.
In a booklet note, Ms. Downes says "The transcriptions and concert pieces collected here are all big, beautiful examples of nostalgic American music. But this is timeless music, too, its romanticism, spirit of adventure, playfulness and purity tap into our collective memory, our underlying, ongoing, deeply American nostalgia for what we all know simply as some other time." The nostalgia is for the four American composers represented on the program and for a "golden" time in American culture when concert music held a more-important place than it does today. As such, the music is romantic, adventurous, sweet, and utterly delightful, presented lovingly by the two star performers.
The first three items come to us from the pen of composer and conductor Leonard Bernstein: "Dream With Me" from the 1950 Broadway production of Peter Pan; "Some Other Time" from the 1944 musical On the Town; and "In Our Time," an unused song only recently published. All three are lushly nostalgic and appropriately sentimental. And they're exquisitely beautiful, with Bailey and Downes providing just the right amount of wistfulness and melancholy without the music becoming maudlin or melodramatic.
Next up we find Samuel Barber's Sonata for Cello and Piano, written in 1932. There's a haunting beauty about the piece, poignant at first and then becoming ever more lighthearted before settling back into a somewhat heavier concluding mood. After that, Bailey and Downes give us their take on one of Barber's most-popular songs, "Sure on This Shining Night," the performance giving us a delightfully lyrical dialogue between voice (cello) and piano.
Following those numbers, we have a couple of works by Lucas Foss, the first, "For Lenny," is a 1988 tribute to Bernstein, borrowing the style of his West Side Story and given a charming interpretation by Bailey and Downes. Then there's Foss's Capriccio for Cello and Piano, a sort of tribute to the music of Aaron Copland, borrowing its style from things like Rodeo and Billy the Kid. Bailey and Downes provide it with plenty of good-natured spunk and vigor.
Three more Bernstein numbers follow: "For Lucas Foss" (a lot of crossbreeding here); the Sonata for Clarinet and Piano, the composer's first published piece; and "For Aaron Copland."
The performers conclude the album with two selections from that most "American" of American composers, Aaron Copland: "Simple Gifts," the Shaker tune Copland used in his 1944 ballet Appalachian Spring; and the traditional ballad "Long Time Ago" from Old American Songs. With them Bailey and Downes provide a pleasingly evocative and highly satisfying ending to the proceedings.
Producer Daniel Merceruio and engineer Daniel Shores recorded the music at Sono Luminus Studios, Boyce, Virginia in September 2013. The sound is gorgeous, the cello richly expressive, the piano every bit as impressive. The two musicians sit with the cello on the left, piano slightly to the right, with both instruments showing up clearly and brilliantly. Moreover, they sound so realistic, you'd think they were live in the room with you. It's all as perfect as the music itself.
To listen to a brief excerpt from this album, click here:
John J. Puccio, Editor, Publisher, Reviewer
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.
Karl W. Nehring, Contributing Reviewer
For over 20 years I was the editor of The $ensible Sound magazine and a regular contributor to its classical review pages. I would not presume to present myself as some sort of expert on music, but I have a deep love for and appreciation of many types of music, "classical" especially, and have listened to thousands of recordings over the years, many of which still line the walls of my listening room (and occasionally spill onto the furniture and floor, much to the chagrin of my long-suffering wife). I have always taken the approach as a reviewer that what I am trying to do is simply to point out to readers that I have come across a recording that I have found of interest, a recording that I think they might appreciate my having pointed out to them. I suppose that sounds a bit simple-minded, but I know I appreciate reading reviews by others that do the same for me--point out recordings that I think I might enjoy.
For readers who might be wondering about what kind of system I am using to do my listening, as of right now it comprises an Onkyo C-7030 CD player, Legacy Audio High Current preamplifier, AVA FET Valve 550hc or Legacy Audio PowerBloc2 amplifier, and a pair of Legacy Audio Focus SE speakers augmented by a Legacy Point One subwoofer.
Bryan Geyer, Technical Analyst
I initially embraced classical music in 1954 when I mistuned my car radio and heard the Heifetz recording of Mendelssohn's Violin Concerto. That inspired me to board the new "hi-fi" DIY bandwagon. In 1957 I joined one of the pioneer semiconductor makers and spent the next 32 years marketing transistors and microcircuits to military contractors. Home audio DIY projects remained a personal passion until 1989 when we created our own new photography equipment company. I later (2012) revived my interest in two channel audio when we "downsized" our life and determined that mini-monitors + paired subwoofers were a great way to mate fine music with the space constraints of condo living.
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. --John J. Puccio
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