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GRAMOPHONE ( 07/ 2019)
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Reviewer: William Yeoman

One of the many pleasures of this recording of Italian music for Baroque cello is hearing Beiliang Zhu play student/teacher duos with cellist Phoebe Carrai, one of the tutors under whom she received her Master of Music from the Juilliard School. It lends not just an extra layer of authenticity; whether it’s a divertimento by Cervetto, a sonata by Boccherini or a duetto by Cirri, a mutual affection, warmth and sense of intimacy shines through in these sometimes virtuoso but mostly fun pieces. (The Boccherini is quite marvellous: picturesque, colourful and full of surprises.)

Such qualities also abound in the sonatas, where the two are joined by Charles Weaver on theorbo and Avi Stein on harpsichord. Taking turns as soloist and continuo player from work to work, Carrai and Zhu mark the air much as calligraphers would paper, lively détaché passages contrasting with longer, swelling bow strokes and tapering lines – all enlivened by tasteful ornamentation.

As Reinhard Goebel writes in his brief booklet note, many Italian composers – including all those here, hence the recording’s title – chose to leave their native soil for greener grasses: ‘Geminiani went to London; Boccherini to Madrid … Even Vivaldi – by then in his 60s – left his familiar Venice behind for Dresden, though he never made it that far, dying in Vienna in 1741.’

This fact may not have much impact on the actual music presented here but it’s a nice way to curate a recital, as it tells a story. With Weaver and Stein as sensitive and creative musical partners, Zhu and Carrai do just that: tell delightful stories.

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