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Bloch • Muhly

Zuill Bailey (cello); Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra/Jun Märkl (Steinway & Sons)

Our rating 
4.0 out of 5 star rating 4.0

Bloch • Muhly
Muhly: Cello Concerto; Bloch, Schelomo – Hebraic Rhapsody; Three Jewish Poems
Zuill Bailey (cello); Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra/Jun Märkl
Steinway & Sons 30049

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This may at first sight seem like an odd coupling – the high Romanticism of Bloch’s rhapsody Schelomo with on-trend Nico Muhly’s lithe new concerto. But after several listens musical links float to the surface. Like Schelomo, and like the colourful Three Jewish Poems, Muhly’s Cello Concerto starts with a heart-stopping high A, which, in Bailey’s hands, announces a voice of authority and soulful eloquence. But while Bloch’s Song of Solomon grows organically into an utterance of sustained grandeur, Muhly’s Concerto presents a smorgasbord of slick ideas, enticingly presented, occasionally lacking in substance.

The first movement is the strongest, with a bright, angular lyricism, vigorously delivered by Zuill Bailey. The soloist’s toccata soon melts into a sheerly vocalise-like movement, bathed in Barberesque radiance. Scurrying scales gradually move out of the halo to be pitted against persistent woodwind and menacing brass.

The finale has a mischievous, minimalist glitter reminiscent of early Adams, a sassy syncopated solo line etched against a high stream of tingling repeated figures, powered by punchy brass. Muhly creates an exciting sonic theatre full of unpredictable explosions and high-wire filigree, which lapses disappointingly into commonplace sequences before ending with a dark twist. It was written for British cellist Oliver Coates, whose performance I heard. While Bailey brings greater heft and definition, he perhaps misses Coates’s mercurial imagination. Jun Märkl and the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra provide sensitive and well-balanced support throughout.

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Helen Wallace