Cellist Zuill Bailey has a charismatic approach that’s hard to ignore. His sheer technicality heightens his artistry beyond the realm of just passable influence. He adores the cello because it’s the only instrument that you play rested against your heart. Tonight he joins the National Philharmonic Orchestra for a night of virtuosity.

 

The program included Koi Nidrei Op. 47 by Max Bruch, Schelomo: Rhapsodie Hébraïque by Ernest Bloch and Pictures at an Exhibition by Modest Mussorgsky, the orchestral Maurice Ravel version.

Zuill Bailey opened for the two pieces for cello and orchestra, Bruch and Bloch. Rhapsodie Hébraïque by Ernest Bloch was particularly enjoyable. The heart felt patterns resonated beautifully throughout the Music Center. Zuill Bailey plays with a passion unparalleled to almost any performer I’ve even seen. It’s as if he cradles his cello whispering to it sweet nothings with his eyes closed. That might sound boring except for the fact that his technical execution is so masterful it will leave you amazed.

It was the compositional philosophy of Bloch to write music that in his words encapsulates the Jewish soul “the complex glowing agitated soul that I feel vibrating throughout the Bible.” This performance was a superb example of that expression.

Post intermission bought on the all so resounding Pictures at an Exhibition by Mussorgsky. As revered as the original piano piece has become it is the Maurice Ravel translation that has become my preferred listening method. It was originally intended as a piano accompaniment for an art exhibition with Russian folklore being a prominent theme. Movements included: The Gnome, The Old Castle, The Ox Cart, The Ballet of Unhatched Chicks in Their Shells, The Market at Limoges, The Catacombs, The Hut of Bab-Yaga on Chicken’s legs, and the Great gate of Kiev.

The Baba-Yaga or The Hut of Baba-Yaga on Chicken’s Legs is a personal favorite. The Baba-Yaga is a cannibal witch that dwells deep in the forest in a hut standing on chicken legs. This tableau paints a picture of a wicked scene shrouded in fear and mystery. The performance was astonishing! It gave you goose bumps! The monstrous tones erupted gloriously. Booing brass roars like an agitated beast. Violins wisp at a frantic pace alerting us of the presence of danger. It’s an action packed adventure that will hold your attention. I routinely listen to Gustavo Dudamel’s performance of the Baba Yaga on YouTube from Salzburg 2008.

This was a fantastic concert executed masterfully. It was passionate, adventurous and fun.