Neither novice nor audiophile should hesitate to acquire Volume 1 of this masterful series of Beethoven's cello sonatas. Zuill Bailey’s tawny, lean cello (a loaned, 1693 Ex “Mischa Schneider” Mateo Goffriller) tone—passionately forceful when required—is a pleasure throughout. Simone Dinnerstein (performing on a 1903 Steinway whose overall timbre belies its age) is an able collaborator, bringing a variety of tone colour (including an ethereal touch in the transition to the “Allegro” of Op. 5, No. 2) and marvellous ability to gamely traverse the sizzling passagework with verve—only the occasional moment of rough-and-ready result gives any cause for concern.
A clear highlight is the opening movement of Op. 69. It features liquid-gold melodic statements from Bailey and understated, beautifully measured replies from Dinnerstein. The obvious flowering of Beethoven’s “working out” genius could not have better champions. Happily (and all too rare in modern concert life), the exposition repeats are taken. But the music is never just “played again”; different nuances are added (from variety of bow weight to discreet portamento), yielding additional insight into the composer’s incredible sense of inevitability.
The “Allegro man na tanto” development’s mysterious hue is painted effectively; its rumbling sequences tossed off with knowing aplomb and—finally—Dinnerstein is able to coax some crystalline, ringing pearls from her storied keyboard that lift the result to yet a higher plane of enjoyment. Then the pair outdo themselves, harvesting the genius and delight of discovery from the final pages before a reluctant “farewell” calms everything effectively and leads with conviction to the theme’s last full-blooded statement—truly given as one. The pulsating “Scherzo” didn’t quite find its elusive centre, rendered more nervoso than “settlissimo.” The tasty Barcarolle-like “Trio” more than makes up for any blemish and recalls the heart-felt and beautifully sculpted “Adagio” of Op. 5, No. 2. The next volume is eagerly awaited. JWR