Audiophile Audition: BEETHOVEN, Period. Review

May 30, 2015

Matt Haimovitz is almost as good a writer as he is a cellist, and his intelligent notes to this recording make for fine, informative reading. Early on, he describes the instruments involved. Christopher O’Reilly plays an especially clear-voiced 1823 Thomas Broadwood fortepiano, which, we are told, is the model following the one that Broadwood himself gifted to Beethoven in 1817. As for Haimovitz, he plays a Venetian Goffriller cello of 1710 “outfitted with ox-gut strings and an early 19th-century rosewood tailpiece and drawn by a Dominique Peccate bow of the same era.” Haimovitz then muses, somewhat surprisingly, “With this setup, the fact that the cello can easily overpower its partner changes everything. Suddenly the consideration is no longer ‘how can the cello cut through the multi-voiced powerhouse of a concert grand piano,’ but ‘how can it make room for the nuances of the 19th-century fortepiano?’” I say “somewhat surprisingly” because, having listened to these performances several times before reading his notes, I found the thought of any sort of imbalance far from my mind.

Instead, I was struck by the special sort of tension maintained here between parity and contrast. Of course Beethoven pioneered the cello-and-piano sonata and, being Beethoven, he was not only “unshackling the cello from its continuo origins” but making the piano a full partner in the enterprise. Cf. the title of this album: “Complete Sonatas and Variations for Pianoforte and Violoncello.” Beethoven wrote his first two sonatas for himself and the celebrated cello virtuoso Jean-Louis Duport; for me, the first movement of Sonata No. 2 epitomizes the equally shared responsibility Beethoven mapped out for himself and his partner. By turns, piano and cello explore the explosive drama of this G-minor juggernaut. Chris O’Reilly clearly relishes being a stand-in for the German master here; his performance has special fire and élan. And I love the upper range of the Broadwood—crisp and bright, without a hint of jingle or jangle. In the mostly smiling rondo finale, Haimovitz nimbly negotiates Beethoven’s hairpin turns from bounding runs and double stops to throaty song.

For me, the greatest of all is the Sonata No. 3, Op. 69, and I have very definite ideas about how this piece from Beethoven’s heroic Middle Period should go. For me, Haimovitz and O’Reilly are just a little too non tanto in the Allegro ma non tanto first movement. Their approach is a bit too even-tempered, even genial, for me. Having reviewed the sonata album from Steven Isserlis and Robert Levin (Hyperion CDA67981/2) fairly recently, I still hear that duo’s highly charged approach in my mind’s ear and feel that Haimovitz and O’Reilly don’t quite stack up, at least in this movement. I’m quite a bit happier with their performance of the movements that follow: real Beethovenian swagger in the scherzo, and the finale is the whirling dervish of a thing that it should be. I’m even taken with Haimovitz’s plaintive statement of the second melody: a bit unusual but effective. In fact, this performance is more nuanced than some, with larger dynamic contrasts than many players allow themselves.

As Haimovitz says, Beethoven’s final two sonatas for cello “sound like modern music.” And he reminds us that the publisher to whom Beethoven first offered these works said thanks but no thanks! Haimovitz goes on, “There is almost a sense that Beethoven needs to break down the bounds of Op. 69, classically proportioned and balanced, to challenge the Platonic ideal of chamber music interplay. . . .” An astute observation and one that apparently pays interpretive dividends because these are among the finest performances I’ve heard of these somewhat intractable sonatas. Op. 102 No. 1 is especially fine (but then I much prefer it, as music, to No. 2).

As to the sets of variations, they are as always nimble and entertaining vehicles, here given spirited, sympathetic performances. Not my favorite Beethoven by a long shot, but when I want to hear them again, Haimovitz and O’Reilly are about as fine a pair of advocates as I know. Given that their playing is captured in beautifully true, beautifully balanced surround sound from PENTATONE, that’s all the more reason to return to this excellent pair of discs.

By: Lee Passarella

 

Montreal Gazette: BEETHOVEN, Period. Review

April 9, 2015

Beethoven, Period. This is the clever but misleading title of a new survey of Beethoven’s output for cello and piano (or piano and cello, as the first editions had it). In fact, the use of period instruments entails no end of commas, dashes, semicolons, footnotes and ellipses, although I can confidently put an exclamation mark after a general endorsement of this as one of the best recordings of the year.

The musicians, Matt Haimovitz and Christopher O’Riley, are of the modern persuasion, but armed with vintage tools. Haimovitz has retrofitted the 1710 Goffriller cello he usually plays with oxgut strings and an early 19th-century tailpiece; while O’Riley uses a 1823 Broadwood piano, this being the English brand  that Beethoven used in his later years.

Some period specialists feel that replicas rather than rebuilt originals are better suited to the ideological demands of their art, but Haimovitz and O’Riley (who really should open a combined delicatessen and pub) seem less motivated by doctrine than by personal musical taste. They tuned their instruments to A-430 — a little flat but not “baroque” — not out of scholarly rigour but because this was the sweet spot in terms of mutual resonance.

The recording is full of subtle beauties that lead the listener to ask whether more credit is owing the instruments or the players. Even the simple solo line for cello that opens the most popular of the sonatas, Op. 69, offers a compact exhibition of how the unpredictable and walrussy tonal qualities of the restrung cello intersect with Haimovitz’s superb sense of how a phrase should go.

The piano is also something of an antique synthesizer that varies in tone depending on the register and the application of either or both of its two pedals. Many are the pearly runs in the treble range and bass notes have a fascinating translucence. Yet we sense aptness in O’Riley’s articulation and unfailing engagement with Beethoven’s genius. This is not a listen-to-all-these-funny-sounds kind of performance.

It is churlish but mandatory to point out that it has taken “modern” musicians to get these results. Period performers aim to recreate the year of composition but often push the music backward. There can be no question in the probing Haimovitz-O’Riley treatment of the first movement of the Sonata Op. 5 No. 2 that Beethoven in 1796 was far, far ahead of his time. Yet in the fugue of Op. 102 No.2 — the composer’s final statement for the combination he loved so well — we seem to hear the past and future brought together by the most abstract and timeless of musical forms.

Not surprisingly, Haimovitz has marshalled some of the traditional pro-period arguments in his booklet notes. Rather than fighting a “powerhouse” modern piano, the cello now must make room for the “nuances” of the fortepiano (this being the common name for an antique or replica instrument). It seems to me that collaborative players (rather than mismatched soloists) have always been able to perform these works equitably on modern instruments. Would Haimovitz and O’Riley have done any worse with steel strings and a Steinway?

Rather than delve into that hypothetical I shall conclude simply that is a recording of full feeling and remarkable intelligence. Haimovitz is a professor at the Schulich School of Music, which gives Montrealers another reason to be interested.

And it should be noted some of the storied “balance” of these old instruments is due to the good work (at George Lucas’s Skywalker Sound studio in California) of the Grammy-winning recording engineer Richard King, who is also a McGill prof. Too bad the sets of variations on the first of the two discs do not correspond to the order indicated in the booklet. Presumably downloaders are not affected.

Now I must confess that I did not hear this recording (a joint release by Pentatone and Oxingale) in five-channel sound but settled for the stereo track played back through a period receiver and vintage loudspeakers. I guess I am just an old-fashioned kind of guy. Go to http://oxingalerecords.com.

By: Arthur Kaptainis

Read at: Montreal Gazette

Le Devoir: Beethoven. Les sonates et variations pour violoncelle et piano, Matt Haimovitz, Christopher O’Riley

March 20, 2015

Classique
Beethoven
Les Sonates et Variations pour violoncelle et piano.
Matt Haimovitz, Christopher O’Riley. Pentatone SACD PTC 5186 475.

Professeur à l’école de musique Schulich de l’Université McGill, le violoncelliste Matt Haimovitz avait commencé sa carrière par un contrat de disque avec Deutsche Grammophon. Cette parution, fruit d’une association de son propre label, Oxingale, avec Pentatone, amène à un questionnement de fond : le rôle des grands labels est-il vraiment de « brûler » des jeunes artistes, avant de les abandonner quand ils ont quelque chose de majeur à dire ? Car cette intégrale des Sonates pour violoncelle et piano de Beethoven, enregistrée dans les studios de George Lucas en Californie, est majeure. Haimovitz s’associe avec un pianoforte, instrument du temps de Beethoven. Ce Broadwood de 1823, d’une beauté quasi irréelle, est la vedette de l’enregistrement. O’Riley en fait ressortir les secrets sonores et Haimovitz l’entoure des meilleures attentions et intentions, ne l’écrasant jamais. Quelle merveille !

By: Christophe Huss

Read at: Le Devoir

Gramophone: BEETHOVEN Complete Cello Sonatas and Variations

March 20, 2015

Cellist Matt Haimovitz prefaces his period-instrument Beethoven cycle with an absorbing essay, writing that ‘the consideration is no longer the modern-day “how can the cello cut through the multi-voiced powerhouse of a concert grand piano”, but “how can it make room for the nuances of the 19th-century fortepiano?”’ Good engineering also helps, and Pentatone’s vividly resonant production captures the music’s wide dynamic range with comparable clarity and heft to the two Bylsma editions, and surpasses the slightly dry and close-up Isserlis/Levin cycle. Continue reading

AllMusic: Beethoven, Period. REVIEW

4.5/5 Stars

Cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Christopher O’Riley released their first album together in 2011, an eclectic program of clever crossover arrangements titled Shuffle.Play.Listen. Haimovitz is well-known for bringing a contemporary attitude to his performances, often performing in clubs instead of classical venues, and his interest in making exciting music with a popular feeling has won him a big following. For this 2014 hybrid SACD release on PentaTone, though, Haimovitz and O’Riley turn their attention to the pinnacle of classical music for cello and piano, the 5 Cello Sonatas of Ludwig van Beethoven. With his fans sure to follow where he leads, Haimovitz doesn’t need to add anything to this music to spice it up, and he and O’Riley approach the sonatas and three sets of variations with seriousness and dedication, if not exactly reverence. While the sonatas are played as straight as the title suggests, Haimovitz and O’Riley play with considerable emotion and élan, yet avoid making their performances seem like an academic recital. There is a lot of personality here, chiefly Haimovitz’s, and even though the music was performed on period instruments, the cello’s sound is robust, and the fortepiano is far from fragile. Still, this set might represent too much freedom for period style purists, so these energetic performances might not be for everybody and sampling is advised. [N.B. In the album’s listing, tracks 4 and 8 are reversed.]

By: Blair Sanderson

Rhapsody: TOP 10 CLASSICAL ALBUMS, MARCH 2015

March 1, 2015

Though works by core-repertoire composers like Beethoven and Brahms figure in this month’s survey of the best new classical releases, the majority of our attached mix is dominated by modern and contemporary music. Spiky, energetic 20th-century pieces by Iannis Xenakis and Erwin Schulhoff are given slick new readings by violinist Mélanie Clapiès and cellist Yan Levionnois on their new album, Pierrots Lunaires. And on the album Spirit of the American Range, conductor Carlos Kalmar continues his impressive run of recordings with the Oregon Symphony. Together, they’re particularly good at bringing across the playful, boisterous modernism of Walter Piston’s “The Incredible Flutist Suite” (which includes a surreal, marching-band interruption in its eighth minute, punctuated by a barking dog).

On the bleeding-edge side of the contemporary scene, we have two (count ‘em, two!) new albums of loud n’ brawny orchestral pieces by Bang on a Can group cofounder Michael Gordon. (The LA Philharmonic takes on the towering “Dystopia,” while the Aurora Orchestra handles the companion work “Gotham.”) Put this together with new recordings that include chamber pieces by Paul Hindemith, piano items by Bela Bartok, and premiere recordings of works by Mexican composer Hilda Paredes, and, well, you’ve got a full month’s worth of vibrant classical music to discover! Click on the attached mix to get started, and refer back to this post, as well as our “composer tracklist” below, in order to keep track of who wrote each piece you’re hearing.

Track 1: Iannis Xenakis, “Dhipli Zyia”
Tracks 2-6: Bela Bartok, Szabadban (Out of Doors)
Track 7: Walter Piston, The Incredible Flutist Suite
Track 8: Ludwig van Beethoven, 12 Variations on “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” from Mozart’s The Magic Flute

Tracks 9-10: Paul Hindemith, Oboe Sonata
Track 11: Michael Gordon, Dystopia
Track 12: Hilda Paredes, Papalote
Tracks 13-16: Erwin Schulhoff, Duo for Violin and Cello
Track 17: Beethoven, 12 Variations on “See the conquering hero comes” from Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus
Tracks 18-22: David del Tredici, Facts of Life
Tracks 23-26: Aaron Copland, Symphony No. 3
Track 27: Beethoven, 7 Variations on “Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen” from Mozart’s The Magic Flute

Tracks 28-30: Paredes, Canciones lunaticas
Tracks 31-34: Ernst Krenek, 4 Pieces, Op. 193
Tracks 35-37: Gordon, Gotham
Tracks 38-41: Johannes Brahms, Symphony No. 6

  1. Michael Gordon, Michael Gordon: Dystopia (Live)
  2. Oregon Symphony, Spirit of the American Range (Live)
  3. Andreas Bach, Bartók: Complete Works for Piano Solo, Vol. 1
  4. Mélanie Clapiès, Pierrots Lunaires: Violin & Cello Duos
  5. James Austin Smith, Distance
  6. Arditti String Quartet, Paredes: Cuerdas del destino
  7. Aurora Orchestra, Gordon: Gotham (Live)
  8. Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, Bruckner: Symphonies Nos. 6 & 7
  9. Matt Haimovitz, Beethoven: Sonatas & Variations for Cello & Fortepiano
  10. David Leisner, Facts of Life

By: Seth Colter Walls

Read at: Rhapsody

Strings Magazine: What Would Beethoven Think?

March 1, 2015
Matt Haimovitz

Matt Haimovitz’s new Beethoven set launches affiliation with Dutch label

Even for pioneering cellist Matt Haimovitz, recording Beethoven’s complete music for cello and piano on period instruments was an audacious step. There were musicological depths to be plumbed—based on manuscripts, first editions, and scholarly research—and practical performance issues to be addressed in order to ensure that the results of his new two-CD package on the newly minted Pentatone/Oxingale label called Beethoven, Period be simultaneously authoritative and entertaining. Throughout the project, Haimovitz had in his mind “at every second whether Beethoven would like this or not.”

Recording the Beethoven cycle had been a dream since his days at Harvard when he wrote his thesis on Beethoven’s last cello sonatas and his advisor was famed Beethoven scholar Lewis Lockwood, Haimovitz says. Once he discovered that pianist Christopher O’Riley, his frequent collaborator at experiencing music “between the genres as the iPod generations do,” loved and was conversant with old instruments himself, the two gave a few performances. “It was such a revelation,” Haimovitz says, “that when we heard Skywalker Sound was free, we decided to record the complete set.”

Playing his 1710 Matteo Goffriller cello, strung with Toro Strings’ ox gut and set up by Louis Gaucher in Montréal, and partnered by O’Riley on an 1823 Broadwood, Haimovitz is using the Beethoven cycle recordings to launch his new Pentatone initiative: Beginning this year, new albums and critically acclaimed reissues from Haimovitz and his musical collaborators will be available internationally in SACD 5.1 surround sound and as high-definition downloads.

Haimovitz’s next recording will be a second go at Bach’s Six Cello Suites using a cello piccolo for the Sixth Suite. “They will be different from my recordings of 15 years ago—which I no longer recognize,” he says. The cycle will be accompanied by a newly commissioned overture for each suite by composers Philip and Vijay Iyer, among others. Each overture will be 5-15 minutes long and will reflect music from a different part of the world using Indian modes and rhythms, Greek chant, Middle Eastern and other influences. Improvisation will play a role in Iyer’s piece, Haimovitz says, and there will be “improv in the compositional process of the other new pieces.”

At press time, Haimovitz and O’Riley planned to launch Beethoven, Period in concerts in Los Angeles and San Francisco (where the duo is in residence at the Conservatory), and at clubs and listening parties in Seattle, Eugene, and Portland, where they will “play live and also experience the music in audiophile-quality surround sound.”

By Laurence Vittes posted

Read at: Strings Magazine

The Whole Note: Beethoven, Period. Review

February 27, 2015

Beethoven, Period
Matt Haimovitz; Christopher O’Riley
Pentatone PTC 5186 475

Beethoven’s interest in the cello appears to have begun early on. His first set of two cello sonatas Op.5 were written in 1796 in his 26th year, his last, Op.102, dates from 1815, by which time the composer was experiencing the trauma of increasing deafness. In between came another sonata and three sets of variations, all of them presented here in this two-disc Pentatone/Oxingale recording featuring cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Christopher O’Riley, the first in a series titledBeethoven, Period.

Most cellists choose to perform on early instruments, and Haimovitz is no exception – his cello of choice is a Goffriller, crafted in Venice in 1710. But rather than overpower the cello with a modern concert grand as is sometimes the case with cello/piano pairings, O’Riley proves to be the perfect musical partner in his use of an 1823 Broadwood pianoforte, both instruments tuned slightly below the standard A440. The result is a wonderfully authentic sound, very close to what Beethoven would have heard in the early 19th century

The first CD contains the earliest two sonatas and the 12 Variations on See the Conquering Hero Comes of Handel. From the opening hesitant measures of theSonata in F Major, we sense the two artists are in full command of the repertoire. Their playing is stylish and precise while the interaction of the two period instruments allows for a compelling degree of transparency.

In disc two, we move into a new period in Beethoven’s style – the Sonatas Op.69and Op.102 show evidence of a more mature style, somewhat darker and more dramatic, while the seven variations on Bei Männern… from Mozart’s The Magic Flute aptly demonstrate Beethoven’s facility at extemporizing on a popular theme. The “magic moment” for me on this disc came in the second movementAdagio con moto sentimento d’affetto of the Sonata Op.102, No.2. Here Haimovitz’s lyrical tone and the sensitive interpretation by O’Riley evoke a wonderful sense of mystery before the start of the jubilant Allegretto fugato,bringing both the sonata and the set to a most satisfying conclusion.

Bravo to both artists in this exemplary pairing; the “great mogul” himself would have been pleased.

By: Richard Haskell

Read at: The Whole Note

WFMT NEW RELEASE OF THE WEEK: Beethoven, Period.

Beethoven: Cello Sonata No 3 in A major, Op 69 (26:11)

Matt Haimovitz, cello; Christopher O’Riley, fortepiano

This release journeys back to the birth of the cello/piano genre with Beethoven’s complete sonatas and variations, recorded on period instruments. Matt Haimovitz plays his own Goffriller cello, crafted in Venice in 1710 and set up with gut strings also from Italy and an early 19th-century rosewood tailpiece. Haimovitz uses a Dominique Peccatte bow of the same era. Joining him is a frequent collaborator, Christopher O’Riley, who plays on an original Broadwood fortepiano made in 1823.

Click stars to rate:
Rating: 4.4/5 (14 votes cast)
Read at: WFMT

Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review: Matt Haimovitz & Christopher O’Riley, Beethoven, Period. Music for Cello and Piano on Period Instruments

 February 24, 2015

Beethoven wrote his music for pianoforte and cello in an age when the piano sounded very different than it does today. That has not stopped us from appreciating his cello-piano sonatas and variations as played on modern instruments. In the right hands they never fail to enchant. Yet an original instrument experience of the music, it turns out, is rather different, though no less enchanting.Matt Haimovitz & Christopher O’Riley, cello and piano, respectively, have given us a most pleasant surprise in their complete recording of the complete Beethoven oeuvre for cello and piano on such period instruments, in a 2-CD set entitled Beethoven, Period.(Pentatone Oxingale Series 5186 475).

They utilize vintage instruments, tune to A=430 in keeping with various tunings of the era, and use the untempered tunings, all of which gives the music a decidedly different cast. The music has a resonant sweetness with the tuning, sounds startlingly different in key modulations and, because of the lower general volume levels of the piano in those days, gives the cello part a prominence and an overall transparency of parts you don’t get in modern instrument versions.

The result is a very balanced interplay between the instruments and a very different feel in both forte and pianissimo passages. Listen to the resplendent Cello Sonata in A Major, op. 69, for example, and you will hear the music differently than what we have become accustomed to.

Haimovitz & O’Riley seem very at home in with the old resonances. Indeed their performances are detailed and filled with brio in the very best ways. They succeed capitally. Yet it all comes across in a wonderfully refreshing way.

This will be delightfully fascinating for all who know the music. It gives us a different sort of lyric appreciation of the music, a new life born of a return to the period sound.

Wholly recommended.