WQXR: In-Studio: Matt Haimovitz & Christopher O’Riley Play Beethoven & Rachmaninoff

April 15, 2015

Matt-Haimovitz-Christopher-ORileyThe cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Christopher O’Riley are quick to emphasize that their recent venture into Baroque period instruments isn’t some fusty or antiquated pursuit. The duo’s new album, “Beethoven, Period,” was recorded at Skywalker Ranch, film director George Lucas’s famous studio complex in Northern California. Instead of sheet music they played from iPads. Their Seattle launch concert took place at the Tractor Tavern, a rock club.

The experience with very old instruments also forced them to rethink their approach to Beethoven’s music. “All of the sudden, the relation between the cello and the piano is completely different,” Haimovitz tells host Elliott Forrest. “No longer am I trying to project over the grandeur of a Steinway grand but I’m actually having to make room for the piano.”

“You have a lot more leeway in terms of expressivity and color, even in the sense of one note having a shape to it,” added O’Riley.

The album features Beethoven’s complete works for cello and keyboard, with O’Riley playing on a fortepiano made in 1823 and Haimovitz outfitting his 1710 Goffriller cello with ox-gut strings, a rosewood tailpiece and a period bow.

The duo’s performance in the WQXR studio marked a return to (mostly) modern equipment – with a 1940’s Steinway and a modern cello bow – but two movements from the Opus 102 No. 2 sonata had a lightness and transparency that suggested time diligently spent in the period-instrument camp.

As Haimovitz notes, the Opus 102 sonatas “offer a window into Beethoven’s late period where he’s deconstructing all of the ideas of the enlightenment and what he inherited from Haydn and Mozart and really finding his own voice complete.” Below is the third movement.

Continue reading

New York Classical Review: Haimovitz and O’Riley team up for intimate and revelatory Beethoven

April 12, 2015

Cellist Matt Haimovitz and Christopher O’Riley, at the fortepiano, played Beethoven’s complete works for cello and piano in two separate concerts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Saturday. As pioneering as the best of this music is, there is relatively little of it. On the fine CD that Haimovitz and O’Riley issued early this year, “Beethoven, Period,” the total works amount to two hours and twenty minutes.

The CD title, and O’Riley’s choice of instrument, gives away the special quality of these performances. Haimovitz played an early 18th century cello, fitted with gut strings and a rosewood tailpiece, and wielded a bow made by the celebrated 19th-century luthier Dominique Peccatte. At the museum, O’Riley played a modern replica of a six-and-a-half octave, 1830 Viennese fortepiano.

Period instruments commonly means a specific manner of playing, characteristically fast tempos and no vibrato in the strings, but what made this concert special was how the musicians used the instruments as a means to express their own interpretations, free of any particular stylistic dictates for how the music should go and of any didactic extremism.

Their brief but informative program notes described their thinking, how the fortepiano, with its jangle-y color and curt sustain doesn’t have the sonic power of the modern piano, and how the period cello, itself less resonant than its modern counterpart, has to leave space for its companion to be heard.

Beyond that technical challenge, at the second and final program Saturday evening, the pair played with a vibrant level of communication with each other and with the music. Every phrase and gesture was an opportunity to share, or respond, with each other and the audience, something they found meaningful in the music. Everything had a dynamic and rhythmic shape, and an expressive purpose. That seemed an ideal approach; like Beethoven’s violin sonatas, these are lively conversations.

The concert began with the Variations on “Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen,” Pamina and Papagano’s duet from Die Zauberflöte, and the prominence of the fortepiano as an equal with what is usually the solo instrument is immediate—the keyboard plays Pamina’s opening melody, the cello the response.

The seven variations that follow make for one of Beethoven’s parlor works, music meant for pleasure and entertainment. The music perked up everyone’s attention—without the carry of modern instruments, the audience had to extend their ears a bit more toward the musicians. And so the sonatas that followed were intimate and absorbing. Working in chronological order, Haimovitz and O’Riley played Op. 69, then the two Op. 102 sonatas, Beethoven’s final works in the form.

The fundamental contrast in the instruments made the music sound that much better, the sharp, bright attack of the fortepiano expressed charm and rhythmic vitality, while the cello’s gut strings, which naturally emulate the human vocal chords, added a few milliseconds of envelop to every attack. The contrast between colors and long and short sounds seemed exactly what Beethoven was hearing in his head when he wrote the music.

The rhythmic tension in parts like the scherzo of Op. 69, the finale of Op. 102, No. 1, and the opening movement of Op. 102, No. 2—where the fortepiano seems to egg on the reluctant cello—was unusual and deeply satisfying. Haimovitz and O’Riley amiably debated exactly how the phrases should go, with no single correct answer. There was sufficient common ground so that the agreement to disagree opened up a whole new way of hearing the music.

With the fortepiano especially, O’Riley could play Beethoven’s tense, jaunty, explosive rhythms with a minimum of effort and a maximum of natural effect, they sounded far more danceable than usual. Meanwhile, Haimovitz played the melodic lines in the sonatas—some of Beethoven’s loveliest—with a light touch of vibrato at only the start of sustained tones, and with a swelling expression that followed the rise and fall of his phrases. He made everything sing.

The musicians’ grasp of the large-scale form was impressive. They took a minimum of breaks between individual movements, mainly so Haimovitz could retune, and were constantly driving forward, playing each note and measure with great musicality while also grasping the role each passage had in the powerful logic of Beethoven’s architecture.

Hearing these two gifted musicians working together with such pleasure and mutual understanding was like seeing two people collaborate on a challenging crossword puzzle, at high speed—fascinating in the moment, and, once the mind caught up to what they were doing, uncanny and dazzling.

By: 

Read at: New York Classical Review

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

NPR: Matt Haimovitz & Christopher O’Riley Tiny Desk Concert

March 14, 2015

Whether it’s warranted or not, classical music wonks are perennially worried about the next generation of fans.

It seems there’s less need to fret when you hear cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Christopher O’Riley. Some 15 years ago, they were already chipping away at the barriers — both real and perceived — between classical and pop.

Haimovitz played Bach in barrooms across America, and O’Riley (who hosts From The Top, NPR’s classical radio show for young musicians) began including his own sophisticated transcriptions of songs by Radiohead and Elliott Smith in his recitals. On their double album Shuffle.Play.Listen., music by Stravinsky and Astor Piazzollamingles with Cocteau Twins and Arcade Fire.

Comfortably ensconced behind Bob Boilen’s desk, the duo plays a typically diverse set. The central work, “The Orchard,” is a collaboration between Philip Glass and West African composer Foday Musa Suso. It unfolds like a lullaby, as the piano’s rocking bass line provides a mesmerizing foundation for the cello’s wistful song high above. Surrounding it are lyricism and outbursts byBeethoven, from his Cello Sonata No. 4 (sounding distinctly 20th century), and a cinematic movement from Leoš Janáček‘s Pohádka, where heart-melting melodies clash with nervous energy.

Set List

  • Beethoven: Cello Sonata No. 4 in C – IV. Allegro vivace
  • Philip Glass/Foday Musa Suso: The Orchard
  • Leoš Janáček: Pohádka – II. Con moto

Matt Haimovitz, cello

Christopher O’Riley, piano

Credits

Producers: Tom Huizenga, Maggie Starbard; Audio Engineer: Kevin Wait; Videographers: Morgan McCloy, Maggie Starbard; Assistant Producer: Carlos Waters; photo by Carlos Waters/NPR

By: 

Read at: NPR

Montreal Gazette: Seven Days, Seven Nights: The Damn Truth, Elephant Stone in a must-see show this week

March 11, 2015

Internationally acclaimed cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Christopher O’Riley play an all-Beethoven program at Salle Bourgie (1339 Sherbrooke St. W.) at 7:30 p.m. This tour has them “going period” with O’Riley playing an 1823 Broadwood fortepiano and Haimovitz’s 1710 Matteo Gofriller cello set up with ox-gut strings. Admission: $30.50. Tickets: 514-285-2000 or www.mbam.qc.ca.

By: Richard Burnett

Read at: Montreal Gazette

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