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

The Charlotte Observer: A cup of coffee, Bach and a cool musician

March 23, 2015

An internationally known cellist lands in Charlotte for one night to play Bach. And the venue he picks is … a coffeehouse?

Well, why not? Johann Sebastian – whose 330th birthday is March 31, by the way – sometimes heard his music played in intimate, informal venues. He liked coffee, writing one of his few secular cantatas (BWV 211) about its delights. A soprano sings “Ah! How sweet coffee tastes,/ More delicious than a thousand kisses,/ milder than muscatel wine” and vows any prospective husband must swear he’ll let her make the brown brew daily. Continue reading

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

Free Times: Concerts in Columbia: March 19-25

Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Matt Haimovitz | photo by Stephanie McKinnon

Thursday 19

Matt Haimovitz — Matt Haimovitz — who ranks among the world’s very best cellists — is performing his interpretation of Bach’s six solo cello suites not at a buttoned-up recital hall but at a venerable dive. Haimovitz has been bringing classical chamber music out of the conservatory and into intimate, alternative spaces for 15 years now, boldly going where other classical musicians fear to tread. In the process, he’s reinvigorated classical music with a punk spirit. — Patrick Wall

New Brookland Tavern: 8 p.m., $10; 791-4413,newbrooklandtavern.com

Read at: Free Times

Hamilton Spectator: Rocky’s rundown on JunoFest

March 11, 2015

Classical

With all the pop fanfare of the awards’ telecast, people forget that the Junos has a highbrow element as well. The Church of St. John the Evangelist, at Charlton and Locke, will host two classically oriented concerts. The first, on Friday at 7:30 p.m., features Hamilton-born singer-songwriter Jeremy Fisher, a nominee in the adult contemporary category, plus the HPO Brass Quintet, Capella Intima, Emma Rush and Vox Metropolis. On Saturday afternoon at 1:30 p.m., Juno nominees Matt Haimovitz (cello) and Paul Stewart (piano), theBlythwood Winds and Piano Duo 2×10.

By: Graham Rockingham

Read at: Hamilton Spectator

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