At Strathmore, Zuill Bailey and Navah Perlman shine in Schumann works

October 27, 2013

Cellist Zuill Bailey and pianist Navah Perlman saved the best for last in their collaboration at Strathmore on Saturday afternoon — three short encores, two of them transcriptions of Schumann piano pieces and, finally, the famous Brahms “Lullaby,” played as a farewell to a beloved mentor who died recently. Here Bailey, who can draw out an intense pianissimo as well as anyone around, found several levels of even quieter quiet and, without any melodrama, offered a touching and heartfelt memorial.

The program, which served as a prelude to the National Philharmonic’s weekend of concerts featuring Bailey playing Schumann’s Cello Concerto, highlighted that composer’s music. But since, aside from the concerto, Schumann wrote almost no music for the cello, Bailey filled the recital’s first half with what little there was, a set of cello pieces in folk style (Op. 102) and the Op. 70 “Adagio and Allegro” and Op. 73 “Fantasiestücke,” both of which, Schumann guessed, could be played by a cello if a clarinet, violin or horn weren’t available. On her own, Perlman, with a huge Schumann piano repertoire to choose from, took over the second half and offered beautifully restrained and phrased readings of his Op. 18 “Arabesque” and the Op. 26 “Carnival Scenes from Vienna” with a Brahms intermezzo and a ballade in between.

The Strathmore’s acoustics are not kind to the solo string sound. I heard recitals there by both Midori and Itzhak Perlman shortly after the hall opened and was struck by how remote the sound was. Little seems to have changed. Bailey, not a booming cellist, nevertheless plays with a comfortable presence and a generous palette of colors and touches, much of which, in this hall, got lost in the journey from the stage to the audience.

Reinthaler is a freelance writer.

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