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Muhly: Cello Concerto; Bloch / Zuill Bailey

Release Date: 01/13/2015
Label: Steinway & Sons Catalog #: 30049
Composer:  Ernest Bloch ,  Nico Muhly Performer:  Zuill Bailey Conductor:  Jun Märkl Orchestra/Ensemble:  Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra Number of Discs: 1
Length: 1 Hours 5 Mins.

Zuill Bailey, one of the world's premiere cellists, performs acclaimed American composer Nico Muhly's Cello Concerto -- A world premiere recording performed with the Indianapolis Symphony conducted by Jun Märkl. Originally commissioned by the Barbican, the work received its American premiere with the Indianapolis Symphony in 2013 and that performance is the source for this recording. Also included on the album are two works by the great Swiss composer, Ernest Bloch: the Hebraic Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra, again featuring Zuill Bailey as soloist, and the Three Jewish Poems for Orchestra.

Album Credits:

Recorded Direct to Stereo DSD at Hilbert Circle Theater, Indianapolis on January 24 - 26,
Read more 2013 and November 21 - 23, 2013.
Additional Recording at Clonick Hall Studio, Oberlin Conservatory of Music on August 19, 2013
Recording Producer: Thomas C. Moore, Five/Four Productions, Ltd.
Recording, Mix, and Mastering Engineer: Michael Bishop, Five/Four Productions, Ltd.
Assistant Engineer: Ian Dobie, Five/Four Productions, Ltd.
Recording Editor: Thomas C. Moore, Five/Four Productions, Ltd.
Art Direction: Jackie Fugere
Design: Anilda Carasquillo


Zuill Bailey opens this triptych with a superb account of Bloch's masterly Schelomo, concentrated and powerful, the soloist rhapsodising in a freely expressive style. Jun Markl draws from the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra a partnership of great sensitivity and colour, and this makes a perfect prelude to Nico Muhly's Cello Concerto which follows. This original and inspired work receives its world premiere recording here. The cello begins a long, intense soliloquy against bold string-pizzicatos, which are taken over first by the orchestra, then the percussion, strongly directed. This leads to a brief moto perpetuo from the cellist. The orchestral playing softens in feeling and dissolves downwards without a break into the delicately scored, tense second movement. It becomes one long lyrical drone and ends with 'a shimmer of bells and rude brass'. The mood lightens engagingly in the finale as Markl combines bold rhythms in the orchestral bass, with chirping minimalist woodwind, creating two lines of counterpoint. The concerto closes enigmatically, with the drums and growling brass returning and another sustained drone again superbly controlled by Markl, yet led by the cello. Bloch's Three Jewish Poems of 1911 and 1916 return to the opulence of the orchestral writing of his early period. The first, 'Danse', balances rhythm and colour. The second, 'Rite', in the composer's words, 'is more emotional' but 'there is something solemn and distant'. The third,'Cortege funebre', 'is more human' and dedicated to his father's memory. Both soloist and conductor show their control with great intensity of feeling throughout, superbly recorded.

-- Ivan March, Gramophone (5/2015)

"Bailey's playing is rhapsodic, and his Solomon sounds genuinely profound, brooding, and sorrowful. Everything about the soloist's performance and the orchestral accompaniment seems letter-perfect to convey Bloch's despairing moods and tone shifts. This is, in fact, one of the most-powerful readings of the score I've heard, powerful emotionally as well as powerful musically... One of the finest production teams in the country made the disc... The sound is, in a word, superb. It's as realistically natural as you could want, with both the cello and the orchestra appearing to be in the same room with you. There's an almost startlingly lifelike quality present, the strings vibrant, the cello rich and mellow, the midrange transparency excellent, the air and space and ambience just right. Highs are well extended; bass is deep and solid; dynamics are strong and wide; I could go on. Suffice to say, this is among the best-sounding new recordings I've heard in quite a while."
-- Classical Candor

"Cellist Zuill Bailey...and the Indianapolis Symphony orchestra, under the baton of conductor Jun Märkl, deliver a magnificent live recording of music by Nico Muhly and Ernest Bloch...Bailey’s cello performance is emotionally powerful, convincing, melodic and reveals his superb lyricism. Overall, the Muhly & Bloch recording beautifully reveals Zuill Bailey’s virtuosity as a cellist and gives this gift of music exceptional clarity. With its excellent sonorities and great technical and production values, it is a recording that skillfully documents Bailey's amazing technical facility and flawless command of his instrument."
-- Paula Edelstein, AXS

So superb and sturdily popular is the “Jewish Cycle” of cello music by Ernest Bloch (along with the cello music of Benjamin Britten, probably the finest and most expressive of the 20th century) it is ideal for presenting, in its midst, a brand new 18-minute cello concerto by 33-year old composer Nico Muhly. In his notes to it included on the disc, Muhly charmingly admits stealing from a piece by Henri Dutilleux and to realizing, as a child, he could compose when he first thought to himself about Benjamin Britten's not much older than my grandmother. It is Muhly's celestial choral music which is among his best known and its enormous appeal will be fondly remembered by anyone listening to his cello concerto here, which is quite a few steps up from academic music. The Bloch pieces; the magnificent and noble warhorse; Schelemo: Hebraic Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra; and Three Jewish Poems; are part of the repertoire that only the most careless, defiant or neglectful of emerging virtuoso cellists would fail to commit to disc relatively early in a flourishing career. Bailey's career has been all of that for a while and his performance of Bloch's terrific music for cello and orchestra (his chamber music for the instrument was similarly marvelous) is in the grand tradition. The Indianapolis Orchestra is exemplary too.
-- Jeff Simon, The Buffalo News

"At a casual glance, the pairing of Nico Muhly’s 2012 Cello Concerto with ‘Schelomo' and the 'Three Jewish Poems' of Ernest Bloch might seem an odd combination. But listen to the world premiere recording of this lush, invigorating score in context, and the relationships become clearer. Muhly’s music has often been suffused with a luxuriant beauty that is unafraid — for better or worse — of teetering into sentimentality, and it’s a quality that his concerto shares with the score that Bloch subtitled a 'Hebraic Rhapsody’...Bailey’s playing is strong-limbed and sensitive throughout, and there are well-judged contributions by the Indianapolis Symphony under conductor Jun Märkl.”
-- Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle

A very good reason to hear this release is to hear the wonderful playing of Zuill Bailey. I have heard Mr. Bailey but once before in his amazing recording of the Britten Cello Symphony, but he is a compelling artist. Bailey is gifted with a beautiful tone, fabulous technique and sensitive interpretation.

Of the three works here, Ernst Bloch’s Schelomo (Hebraic Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra) is the war horse. This long, plaintive and dramatic tone poem (almost) for cello and orchestra takes its inspiration from The Book of Ecclesiastes and, in this work, the cello is intended to be the voice of Solomon as the work weaves its way, luxuriously; sometimes mournfully, through three section; an opening rhapsody, a middle which utilizes an old German-Jewish melody, from Bloch’s childhood, Kodosh Attoh and a final, desperate utterance from the cello as Solomon cries for humanity. I have heard this work many times, including once with Zara Nelsova. Bailey’s performance here ranks with the best.

Bloch’s Three Jewish Poems is another of the works for cello and orchestra that the composer thought of as his “Jewish Cycle” (which were written over fifteen years beginning in 1911 with this work, continuing with Schelomo and Baal Shem and culminating in 1926 with The Voice in the Wilderness. Almost all of Bloch’s work speaks to his heritage and his own personal experiences growing up in central Europe. This particular work was new to me and I find it lovely and quite personal. The three movements each carry a different tone: Danse and Rite both have a very ceremonial sound to them while the last, Cortège funèbre, was written specifically to commemorate Bloch’s father.

One of the best reasons to acquire this recording is to hear the new and scintillating Cello Concerto by the young American composer Nico Muhly. Muhly is a graduate of Columbia and has been writing music since he was barely in junior high school. He studied with John Corigliano and Christopher Rouse (to help underscore his youth!) I have heard some of his music before, most notably his opera Two Boys and his chamber work Drones. What I have heard I like a great deal. His style is refreshingly hard to describe but is consistently colorful and captivating. The middle Part Two to his Concerto is especially lovely and makes maximum use of a drone that evolves into a tinkling a metallic percussion and brass. The finale is a bright, propulsive example of what the composer calls “process music” – in this case a highly engaging style that carries some John Adams-like riffs into near-jazz territory. This is a wonderful work and, honestly, I would get this recording for just this piece.

-- Daniel Coombs, Audiophile Audition

The Steinway & Sons label broadens its range a bit here with a live recording featuring the underrated Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra under conductor Jun Märkl, with one of the hot American soloists, cellist Zuill Bailey. The Jewish-themed works of Swiss-American composer Ernest Bloch, nearly 100 years old when this album was released in 2014, have never failed as crowd-pleasers or gone through a spell of unpopularity; the Three Jewish Poems are only slightly less familiar than the ubiquitous Schelomo: Hebraic Rhapsody for cello and orchestra, with its shofar-like calls and rich melodies. Bailey delivers big performances of these in the classic mold, and while there are classic renditions to choose from if choosing just one, this would also fill the bill. The novelty here is a new work by American composer Nico Muhly, who has mostly specialized in choral pieces. His three-movement cello concerto, compact at about 18 minutes, almost sounds like choral music, especially in the high-lying, genuinely ethereal slow movement. That makes sense, for Schelomo itself started life as a vocal piece and was then recast for the cello. This is a much more coherent way of including contemporary music in a program than American orchestras usually provide, where the contemporary piece is so often something listeners sit through in order to get to the Beethoven. Steinway gets fine live sound out of the Hilbert Circle Theater in Indianapolis.
-- James Manheim, All Music Guide "

At age 33, Nico Muhly must be counted among the more successful young composers in history: a catalog of more than 100 works, an opera performed and recorded by the Metropolitan (Two Boys, reviewed in Fanfare 38:4), a seemingly endless spate of commissions, performances, and recordings. Muhly studied with Christopher Rouse and John Corigliano and worked for some years with Philip Glass.

Muhly's idiom here could be described as aggressively tonal. He describes his three movements as (sequentially) angular, supple & motoric. Part One has the cello carrying several melodic lines, punctuated by stabbing chords in every corner of the orchestra, from a single triangle strike to grand tutti. Part Two never quite relaxes enough to be called a slow movement. In Part Three, a surge of ringing, Reichian percussion is anchored by maximalist blasts from brass and timpani; the solo cello winds around and through all of this, sometimes playful, sometimes soulful. A brief, serious coda seems more like an epilogue. The entire concerto is easy to love yet convincingly original, evincing a freedom of expression unconstrained by its historical connections. It is worthy of Muhly's constantly growing reputation.

Despite being a portrait of King Solomon, Schelomo, Hebraic Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra (1916), is a wild, passionate late Romantic piece demanding an all-stops-out performance. Zuill Bailey and Jun Markl give just that, in the spirit of Feuermann/Stokowski and Rostropovich/Bernstein, and the Indianapolis Symphony holds its own with their more noted orchestras.

Bloch's Three Jewish Poems (Danse, Rite, Cortege funebre) were written in 1913, in memory of his recently deceased father. In his invaluable Voices in the Wilderness (Scarecrow Press, 2004), Walter Simmons damns them as definitely the weakest works of the Jewish Cycle; extravagantly exotic, flamboyantly orchestrated, but largely pictorial symphonic tableaux. For those of us who love music that fits that definition, this CD treats us to gorgeous performances thereof.

The Steinway label has been notable for pristine, honest sound. Here it sets the listener so close to the cello that a single protracted forte can drown out the symphony orchestra. It?s an unnatural balance, but an effective one for a cello concerto, far from unique to this recording. It makes the most of Bailey's lush, rich tone, and it suits the over-the-top nature of Schelomo in particular. But listeners who prefer recordings that represent true concert perspective will hear the proverbial 800-pound gorilla. With that caveat, highly recommended. -- Fanfare

Here is a program that balances itself well, combining composers born 100 years apart. There is a resemblance between both the harmonic and general musical attitude of these two composers that I didn't expect from the descriptions of their music in the liner notes. Bloch we know for his colorful orchestration and generally Jewish melodic attitude that occurs particularly in these two works, the great tone poem for cello and orchestra Schelomo and the Three Jewish Poems for orchestra, both gorgeous depictions of mood.

Nico Muhly (b.1981 in Vermont) studied with Christopher Rouse and John Corigliano at the Juilliard School. His concerto is in three movements, and the description by the composer refers to them as angular, supple, and motive. He also mentions drones on three separate occasions. The music is not as individual as Bloch's to the ears, but it makes an effective interlude between the two Bloch pieces and is beautifully played by Bailey and the orchestra.

There are some unusual aspects to the recording. The sound is rather lacking both in dynamic range and in high frequencies. If you turn up the high frequencies as far as they will go, it sounds fine in quality if still lacking in dynamic range. Also, there is almost no space between the compositions. If you don't find these sound barriers a turnoff, the playing is fine and rich in mood if not as violent as we sometimes get in this turn-of-two-centuries music.

-- American Record Guide

How many classical cellists can proudly claim on their resume a guest appearance on the HBO series Oz? Certainly not Yo-Yo Ma. Zuill Bailey may have started his career as the prison inmate, but his intense and varied classical cello playing since then speaks volumes, ranging from the traditional to the experimental. His world premiere recording of the Cello Concerto by sometimes film composer Nico Muhly (The Reader, Kill Your Darlings) is certainly in the latter camp. This live concert recording with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra features modern orchestral writing at its most challenging and expressive, and the soloist and Orchestra are up to the task. The third section of the three-part work may be the most musically accessible, and highlights Bailey's virtuosity. The Muhly is paired nicely with two Jewish-themed pieces by the modern Swiss-born American composer Ernest Bloch: the cello-based Schelomo, and the orchestral 3 Jewish Poems. &

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