New Classical Tracks: Beethoven for Cello

by Julie Amacher, Minnesota Public Radio
October 19, 2009
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St. Paul, Minn. — Ten years sure flies by when you're having fun. That's how long it's been since cellist Zuill Bailey and pianist Simone Dinnerstein first started performing together. To celebrate, they've released a complete collection of Beethoven's masterpieces for piano and cello. Not only do these sonatas and variations chronicle Beethoven's evolution, Bailey says it's a true celebration of the evolution of their own musical partnership.

Simone Dinnerstein agrees. "Learning Beethoven's complete works for piano and cello was the first major project that Zuill and I undertook when we first began working together as a duo. It is music we've lived with, mulled over, considered and reconsidered. Committing our interpretation to disc is a milestone in our ongoing journey together."

Before Beethoven, few composers were able to expose the cello's full possibilities. The melody or solo lines were typically given to soprano voices or instruments. It was Beethoven who saw the full potential of the cello's rich lower range. The first two sonatas and the operatic variations that appear on this recording come from Beethoven's early period. They were written for the first cellist of the Prussian court orchestra, and later dedicated to Frederick William II of Prussia, who was also an excellent cellist. There are dramatic changes as the mood shifts from neat and orderly to near pandemonium in the Sonata No. 1 in F major.. In the second movement the cello and piano compete for control. Zuill Bailey and Simone Dinnerstein bring out all of the conflict and turbulence which make up this chaotic musical struggle.

Beethoven's third sonata comes from his middle period, a time when the composer had mastered his craft and was oozing with confidence. In this sonata, the instruments are no longer fighting for control. The Sonata No. 3 in A Major is an exercise in listening, a skill at which Zuill Bailey and Simone Dinnerstein truly excel. Bailey plucks aggressively on the low notes, as Dinnerstein matches his intensity at the keyboard. There are some who believe this passionate sonata is a reflection of the love affair Beethoven was having at the time with Therese Malfatti. In the tender adagio cantabile, it's easy to hear the composer baring his soul to the woman he hopes to marry. The joyful Rondo might lead you to believe she accepts his proposal, which she did not. The speed at which Bailey and Dinnerstein take the final movement is mind-boggling.

The only major instrumental works written by Beethoven in 1815 were his final two cello sonatas. They were dedicated to Beethoven's confidant, Countess Anna-Marie Erdody. The opening movement of the Sonata No. 4 in C major is utterly gorgeous. Zuill Bailey's exquisite phrasing and earthy tone dig deep into the instrument's soul. The final movement is a spirited Allegro con brio. Zuill Bailey and Simone Dinnerstein surprise the listener at every turn in this playful reading.

Zuill Bailey and Simone Dinnerstein have lived with these works and mulled them over for the past ten years. After considering this music from all angles they decided to create a milestone in their musical journey together by committing their interpretation to disc. This dynamic new release captures the sensitivity these performers have toward one another, and their audience. You'll love the energetic, fresh style of their performance, which is meticulously planned, yet very spontaneous.

Zuill Bailey -- Simone Dinnerstein -- Beethoven: Complete works for Piano and Cello (Telarc 80740).

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