The Strad Issue: January 2014
Description: Enlightening accounts of two key Britten works for cello
Musicians: Zuill Bailey (cello) Natasha Paremski (piano) North Carolina Symphony Orchestra/Grant Llewellyn
Composer: Britten

This live concert performance of the Cello Symphony, captured over two nights in North Carolina, is made extra exciting by its vibrant recorded sound and by the ability of the orchestra under Grant Llewellyn really to enter into Britten’s sound world. Zuill Bailey’s 1693 Gofriller cello is closely miked, enhancing moments like the filigree thin wire of sound in the highest reaches of the instrument in the Adagio and the intimate solo recitative passages accompanied by left-hand pizzicato, conjuring up a bleak landscape. However in the jittery, scurrying scherzo, Bailey’s repeated rhythmic figure is brought so much to the fore that the wind and brass motifs sounds like a distant accompaniment. Applause, not to everyone’s taste, especially not halfway through a disc, follows the epic finale.

In the Cello Sonata, the first of Britten’s series of works for Rostropovich, after a calm, exploratory first movement, Natasha Paremski adds a delicate humour to the fragmentary dialogue with pizzicato cello in the scherzo, and the close recording allows every detail of the groundbreaking plucking techniques Britten employs. Bailey’s loose cross-string triplets towards the end of the Elegia are beautifully hypnotic, and the battery of machine-gun-like bowing is impeccably controlled and frighteningly effective. Altogether an enlightening performance.