Elgar receives delicate, balanced performance

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March 12, 2013

The Victoria Symphony Orchestra
Concerto for cello in E minor by Edward Elgar
Soloist Zuill Bailey
Royal Theatre

 Reviewed by Konstantin R. Bozhinov

Cello soloist Zuill Bailey described the Concerto for cello in E minor  as a monumental twentieth-century work that rivals the great Dvořák cello concerto. Bailey, just as Edward Elgar did almost a hundred years ago, compared the concerto to the “baby stages” in our lives, namely infancy and advanced old age. The concerto began with a basic and memorable chordal structure, matured fully in the middle movements and then gradually settled down into the final minute of the piece, bringing back the same opening gesture.

The sound from the introductory orchestral performance of John Estacio’s Brio: Toccata and Fantasy for Orchestra had barely disappeared when the centre-piece began with rich sound from Bailey. Overall, the orchestra was supportive of the soloist, especially in the low-range melodies which Elgar writes in great quantity and quality. During those moments, the orchestra politely backed away and let Bailey’s 1693 original Gofriller cello take the lead. But unfortunately when the cello played at the top of its range, the sound was lost due to overlap with the violas and violins.

Bailey overlooked no details in the third Adagio movement, which was certainly the most sensitive in his presentation. He gradually dropped the dynamic level and made the audience lean forward in order to hear all of the details; in this section he was certainly doing the conducting, while Maestro Zeitouni was picking up on every subtle musical cue, only then relaying it to the orchestra.

The last movement featured a similar amount of finesse from the orchestra but unfortunately here the cello intonation was the worst, in part due to the high positions Bailey used on the instrument. Nevertheless, this movement had to somehow make its way back to the original  “adolescent” themes of the opening. The performers dropped the dynamic level almost to the point of disappearing, then suddenly brought back the jagged chords from the top of the score. It was clear that the whole concerto had had a transforming effect on that theme, and it had now returned for one final reminder of the “baby stages” structure that Bailey described in his introduction.

Overall, Bailey delivered a sensitive performance; this concerto is obviously familiar to him.  Brief moments of hesitation on the orchestra’s part demonstrated that it had not been rehearsed for too long. In rare moments, the soloist, rather than the conductor, seemed to spontaneously dictate the interpretation. Those were the most memorable aspects of the entire concerto.


Konstantin R. Bozhinov is a Ph.D. student in historical musicology at UVic, as well as a professional performer on the lute, baroque guitar and theorbo.

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