Russian Poetry


Expectations that cellist Zuill Bailey’s timbre will prove as inviting as his tall, dark, and handsome countenance are amply rewarded in his Telarc recording, Russian Masterpieces for Cello and Orchestra. Ably supported by the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, conducted by Martin West, the sound of his closely miked 1693 Matteo Gofriller cello (formerly owned by Mischa Schneider of the Budapest String Quartet) is especially large and luscious.

In the hands of Bailey and West, Tchaikovsky’s ever-popular Variations on a Rococo Theme for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 33 gets the full balletic treatment. Rather than dwelling on the Variations’ emotional undercurrents, the men treat the piece as a grand opportunity to dance and sing with joyful abandon. After all, given that the composer is Tchaikovsky, they need only turn to his shorter Nocturne In D minor for Cello and Small Orchestra, Op. 19, No. 4 and the Pezza capriccioso in B minor for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 62 for opportunities to dwell in the melancholic wistfulness of the Russian soul.

Of soul, there is plenty in Shostakovich’s famed Concerto No. 1 in E-flat major for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 107. Written in 1959 for his friend, supporter, and sometime performance partner, Mstislav Rostropovich, the work swings from wild, sardonic irony to the deepest melancholy. Rather than wallowing in despair, Shostakovich acknowledges his sadness before turning to biting, coruscating humor to turn in the screws on the Stalinist regime. Bailey and West ably confirm the Concerto’s bite and heartfelt emotional reach.