Zuill Bailey / Awadagin Pratt

Brahms: Works for Cello & Piano

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Though he wrote only two sonatas for the combination of cello and piano, Brahms certainly had some special regard for the cello that figured prominently in all of his chamber music output. It was the cello, after all, for which Brahms wrote his first instrumental duo sonata. The Op. 38 Sonata in E minor is an atypical composition, both as a cello sonata in general and a Brahms sonata in particular. Cast in only three movements (the central Adagio movement was removed and destroyed by the composer), the sonata does not explore the cello's soaring range or virtuosic capabilities. Rather, much of the score finds the cello in its lower, deep register, a fact that continually vexes artists as they struggle to achieve balance with the equally dark, robust writing for the piano. Cellist Zuill Bailey and pianist Awadagin Pratt do a remarkable job finding a pleasing middle ground between the piano completely dominating the cello or playing with such submission that richness of the score is lost. On this Telarc album, listeners have the surprisingly rare ability to hear every note in both parts. Pratt's playing is marvelously intricate, supple, and sensitive; Bailey tones down his often bravura playing and gives a performance filled with velvety, dark tone colors. Fast forward two decades to the Second Sonata, a work that is scored much higher in the cello's register and exploits both instruments virtuosic capabilities, and Bailey and Pratt are still spot-on in their balance and transparency of playing. Even listeners who have heard these sonatas 100 times will find something new and worthwhile on this Telarc disc.

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