Zuill Bailey and Robert Koenig at Maverick

Saturday’s concert at Maverick, and a highlight of this year’s series for me, was an all Mendelssohn program performed by Zuill Bailey on cello and Robert Koenig on piano. There is a maturity to Mendelssohn’s works, even the ones he wrote at a young age, and an understated fire you can hear brimming beneath the surface. It’s there for you to find, but is not outspoken — nor should it be, for if full blown it would distract from the music as it is. One could say that all of Mendelssohn’s works were written at a relatively young age, since he died when he was only thirty eight, and we can only be grateful that we were left with as many treasures as we were.

Variations Concertantes in D major, Op. 17

Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 1 in B flat, Op. 45

Allegro vivace


Allegro assai

Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 2 in D major, Op. 58

Allegro assai vivace

Allegretto scherzando


Molto allegro e vivace

Song Without Words for Cello and Piano, Op. 109, No. 2

Song Without Words, Op. 19, No. 1

Variations Concertante starts out sweetly, but goes on to be dashing. Zuill played the fast sections with unparalleled precision, and he is truly a master over his instrument. As the variations progress, the drama only increases, cello singing a tortured song of angst. The gentle opening of the piece is heard once more before shortly giving way to a tempest, cello’s bow rocking back and forth over the strings, mimicking the crashing of waves against rocks. At the recapitulation, the sweetness returns a final time to close the piece.

During the first sonata on the program both instruments are companions, each equally important. The piano is a constant force, creating a rainbow of sounds and a wide range of tones, while parts on the cello are played low in the bass notes. In a hall as intimate as Maverick, you could feel the floor vibrating if you were sitting close enough… The cello also soars throughout the swift music of the first movement, which closes with short notes. There isn’t a lot of excess to the music of the second movement, which piano opens, even when cello joins. Mendelssohn didn’t feel the need to write notes for the sake of writing notes, and every note he did choose is all the more meaningful for it, and undiluted. Another thing Mendelssohn did was he created a cohesiveness among his movements. As a composer, he had a clarity and vision that shines through; it’s as though you didn’t even know that something was missing, but as the piece unfolds you realize it was. And so the third and final movement of Mendelssohn’s sonata leaves the listener with a feeling of fulfillment. You get what you never knew you wanted, but once you hear it know you could have never lived without.

The first movement of Sonata for Cello and Piano No. 2 is powerful, but never out of control. The music forms layer upon layer and is full of rich tones. Piano introduces the second movement of this sonata as well, with turns and staccato notes. Cello joins plucked, playing that way a number of times during the movement in between passages filled with legato melody lines and sharp notes, and eventually ends plucked along with piano’s staccato. Rolled chords on piano begin the Adagio movement of the piece, and cello’s first three notes are deeply touching. That movement may be the best example of Mendelssohn’s ability to create beauty from simplicity (which is not to say it’s easy to write in that manner). I know and readily admit I am deeply affected by music, but I wasn’t the only one crying! As a matter of fact, Zuill himself told the audience that the slow movements rip his heart out, and said, “I’m distracted by the fact that I have to actually play them,” drawing a chuckle from the crowd. As for Zuill’s playing, it was absolutely inspired. His cello is clearly a part of him, and the music he drew from it seemed to flow right from his heart out his fingers. The third movement runs into the fourth, and once again the audience is granted a feeling of completion — one that they had no idea they were lacking. The artists, and I say that because Zuill and Robert are, ran seamlessly through the score giving the music the life it deserved.

There was only one “Song Without Words” listed on Sunday’s program, but Zuill and Robert had read through another earlier that day and decided to play it as well. I’m glad because, in this case, two were better than one. Both were glorious pieces that soothed and calmed, and the last note of the second song resonated in the air and within me. As Maverick’s music director Alexander Platt said of Mendelssohn, “It’s incredible that he could channel such melodies, and purity.” Indeed it is, and that sentence could be said of Zuill and Robert’s musical understanding and capabilities as well.

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