Do the Math: Precipice

December 13, 2011


I admit that Christopher O’Riley is a good friend of mine.  But even if he was a stranger, I’d be knocked out by his collaboration with Matt Haimovitz, Shuffle. Play. Listen.  This two-CD set is packed with astonishing cello-piano music.  Alexandra Gardner does a nice job parsing the second disc comprised of O’Reilly’s vivid transcriptions of rock and fusion.  But I’m here to tell you the “classical” side is now one of my favorite records.

Leoš Janáček’s Pohádka has a marvelous atmosphere, veiled and mysterious.  The score is almost underwritten:  the performers have to be fully invested in each cryptic utterance.  (I’ve got to listen to more Janáček.)  Bohuslav Martinů is from a similar school and his Variations on a Slovak Folksong begin with a rather bluesy piano statement.  In Stravinsky’s familiar Suite Italianne Haimovitz and O’Reilly have the right kind of blustery lyricism.  I just adore the way “wrong” notes only occasionally peek out during Igor’s mostly conventional harmonization of old Italian tunes.

The unquestionable highlight of the disk, however, is O’Riley’s arrangement of Bernard Hermann’s score to Vertigo.  I know the soundtrack well, and am astonished by how well it works as a recital piece for virtuoso cello and piano.  Chris sent me a nice note about it:

I’ve been doing pretty literal transcriptions of much of the Psycho music for solo piano, and so doing Vertigo was a natural consequent. Again, the real stretch had two-fold origins/ramifications: Matt and Luna were instrumental in exacting how much technical boundary-stretching was worth the eventuating sound-result, and how much could be reorchestrated vis-à-vis different octaves; and I, in turn, when things like the tumultuous and necessarily section-based kineticism of say, “The Nightmare” presented obstacles, it was again just a matter of stacking up Bernie’s already suggestive and comprehensive mode-set.

In line with the title of the album, the Vertigo suite is spread out, “shuffled” between the longer classical pieces.  However, after you import to your Mp3 player, there’s nothing to stop you from enjoying a playlist of just Vertigo.

Shuffle. Play. Listen. is on Oxingale Records, Haimovitz’s own label.  Among many other fine releases I recommend the moving interpretation of Bach’s solo cello music.  All of O’Riley’s records are great, too.  But if you can find it, his older Stravinsky recital on Nonesuch is simply sensational.

Both Matt and Chris play the standard rep as well as it can be done.  They both also challenge the notion that classical music is only for the landed gentry.  In the future they will be hailed as trailblazers.

by Ethan Iverson

View at Do the Math

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