Masked but memorized: cellist Zuill Bailey at First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta. (credit: Concerts@First)

Zuill Bailey performs solo cello works as ECMSA returns to live concerts

Zuill Bailey
February 18, 2022
First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta
Co-presented by Emory Chamber Music Society of Atlanta & Concerts@First
Atlanta, Georgia
Zuill Bailey, cello
J.S. BACH: Suite No. 3 in C major
J.S. BACH: Suite No. 6 in D major
Gasoar CASSADÓ: Suite for Solo Cello

Mark Gresham | 22 FEB 2022

After a month of canceled events due to institutional COVID precautions, Emory Chamber Music Society of Atlanta returned to live concerts with Friday’s noontime “Bach’s Lunch” series performance by cellist Zuill Bailey, co-presented by Concerts@First. Bailey’s performance was to an in-person audience and live-streamed, as has become typical of concerts at First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta.

Bailey performed three works for solo cello from memory in the intermissionless program. Two of them were unaccompanied cello suites by Johann Sebastian Bach.

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The first of these was Suite No. 3 in C major, BWV 1009. Bailey followed it with Suite No. 6 in D major, BWV 1012.

Of the two, I thought No. 6 was the better performed by Mr. Bailey this time around, although I feel a greater familiarity with No. 3, as well known as all six of Bach’s solo cello Suites happen to be today. It was not always so: they were not so widely known before the early 20th century. It was Pablo Casals who brought them to the forefront of musical consciousness. At age 13, Casals discovered a copy of Friedrich Grützmacher’s edition of the suites in a thrift store. He began playing them but would not consent to record them until 1936, at age 60, when he recorded No. 2 & 3. He recorded the rest within the next three years.

But this was not the last connection that the ghost of Casals had with Bailey’s program.

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Bailey concluded the concert with Suite for solo cello, composed in 1926 by Gaspar Cassadó (1897-1966), a Spanish cellist and composer of the early 20th century. Born in Barcelona, and began taking cello lessons at age seven. Pablo Casals heard the nine-year-old Cassadó play in a recital and immediately offered to teach him. The city of Barcelona awarded him a scholarship to study with Casals in Paris.

This Suite for solo cello was composed in 1926 and dedicated to the eccentric German cellist, actor, and stage director Francesco von Mendelssohn. It consists of three dance movements: “Preludio-Fantasia (a Zarabanda),” “Sardana,” and “Intermezzo e Danza Finale (a Jota).”

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The first movement quotes Zoltán Kodály’s Sonata for Cello Solo, Op. 8, and the famous flute solo from the ballet Daphnis et Chloé by Marice Ravel, with whom Cassadó studied composition. The Sardana of the second movement is a traditional Catalonian dance, while the final Jota is a dance found throughout but most prominently in Aragón.

It is challenging work for even a professional cellist, filled with multi-stops and other technical hurdles, but also requiring a robustly passionate musical approach. Bailey took to both elements with zeal, offering the audience present and online a winning performance of Cassadó’s fervant music.

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Mark Gresham

Mark Gresham is publisher and principal writer of EarRelevant. he began writing as a music journalist over 30 years ago, but has been a composer of music much longer than that. He was the winner of an ASCAP/Deems Taylor Award for music journalism in 2003.