Music review: Zuill Bailey and Orion Weiss at the Kennedy Center

Thursday, May 6, 2010; C04

Growing up in Alexandria, Zuill Bailey dreamed of playing the cello in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater one day. He returned to Washington on Tuesday evening to live out that dream, in a concert with pianist Orion Weiss presented by Washington Performing Arts Society.

Brahms's Cello Sonata No. 2 was the best fit for Bailey's edgy, sometimes overly percussive sound and for Weiss's ability to create a meaty, full-handed texture at the keyboard. The sonata's first movement was turbulent, while remaining appropriately balanced, and the slow second movement was poetic rather than sentimental, with Bailey producing a warmly expressive tone on his highest string. Both musicians relished the dancing hemiola figures in the third movement, shifts of the downbeat between duple and triple groupings, and played with impressive bravura and accuracy.

The first half combined variations and dance works of a lighter character. Weiss's over-forceful hand at the piano undermined Roberto Sierra's suave "Suite de Canciones y Danzas," commissioned by Bailey, but the 20-something pianist dazzled in the virtuosic keyboard passages of Mendelssohn's "Variations Concertantes" in D. Pieces from Bailey's latest two CDs, released by the Telarc label, were featured in an impulsive and slightly disjointed version of Beethoven's "Judas Maccabeus Variations" and an energetic but hardly immaculate prelude from Bach's Cello Suite in G.

The principal works were embroidered with more than a few encore-like miniatures, announced from the stage and dotted throughout the evening, including some burnished and intensely appealing transcriptions of Brahms songs. Bailey, a charming raconteur, wove the pieces together with entertaining stories of a highly anecdotal nature about the composers or himself. As a result, this performance felt like an informal house concert, which is not at all an unpleasant way to spend a Tuesday evening.

-- Charles T. Downey

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