Zuill Bailey / Jun Märkl / Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra

Nico Muhly: Cello Concerto; Ernest Bloch: Schelomo - Hebraic Rhapsody for Cello and Orchestra; Three Jewish Poems

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The Steinway & Sons label broadens its range a bit here with a live recording featuring the underrated Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra under conductor Jun Märkl, with one of the hot American soloists, cellist Zuill Bailey. The Jewish-themed works of Swiss-American composer Ernest Bloch, nearly 100 years old when this album was released in 2014, have never failed as crowd-pleasers or gone through a spell of unpopularity; the Three Jewish Poems are only slightly less familiar than the ubiquitous Schelomo: Hebraic Rhapsody for cello and orchestra, with its shofar-like calls and rich melodies. Bailey delivers big performances of these in the classic mold, and while there are classic renditions to choose from if choosing just one, this would also fill the bill. The novelty here is a new work by American composer Nico Muhly, who has mostly specialized in choral pieces. His three-movement cello concerto, compact at about 18 minutes, almost sounds like choral music, especially in the high-lying, genuinely ethereal slow movement. That makes sense, for Schelomo itself started life as a vocal piece and was then recast for the cello. This is a much more coherent way of including contemporary music in a program than American orchestras usually provide, where the contemporary piece is so often something listeners sit through in order to get to the Beethoven. Steinway gets fine live sound out of the Hilbert Circle Theater in Indianapolis.

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