December 22, 2011
This is, hands down, the most unusual solo cello program I have ever heard. There are plenty of some beautifully played traditional – as well as nontraditional – cello recital recordings out there; too many to even dare cite a few examples. However, this is the first I have heard that pushes the artistic envelope in such a daring and successful manner!
Israeli born Canadian [sic] cellist Matt Haimovitz is a virtuoso performer who, as of late, has made his reputation in the realm of solo playing. An amazing performer, Matt debuted with the Israel Philharmonic at the age of 13 (!) and made his first concerto recording with James Levine and the Chicago Symphony at the age of 17. Haimovitz is no novice to bringing cello to the pops world or the pops world into classical territory. His 2010 recording, “Meeting of the Spirits” with his own all-cello ensemble, Uccello, was nominated for a Grammy for best new crossover album. The present recording illustrates why.
This ample two CD set opens with a blend of some mid-twentieth-century classical masterworks, such as the Martinů Variations on a Slovak Folksong, the Janáček Fairy Tale and the well known Suite Italienne from Stravinsky’s Pulcinella. These works are performed by Haimovitz and his wonderful accompanist, Christopher O’Riley, with panache and a real flair for the somewhat eastern European tone that these works bear. What makes this first CD so attention getting however is the inclusion of the Astor Piazzolla Le Grand Tango with a heavily accented Argentinean bravura that shines in sharp contrast to the somewhat Slavic sounds of the other works. The tone is “interrupted” as well by inserting movements of Bernard Herrmann’s Vertigo Suite (from his film score) in between the classics. The mood established by this music is not all together alien, though. The mood of “The Nightmare” sets up the Martinů in a most interesting way. A similar effect is achieved by listening to “Scotty Trails Madeline” in between the Stravinsky and the Piazzolla. This is daring programming and program order; and it works!
The second disc presents a wholly different approach as Haimovitz and O’Riley perform a dozen captivating arrangements (many of them by O’Riley himself) by some somewhat alternative rock bands, such as Arcade Fire, Radiohead, Blonde Redhead and the Cocteau Twins. The most “mainstream” artist chosen and represented here is John McLaughlin. Haimovitz and O’Riley find some of the most tuneful and hypnotic works by these artists and make a convincing case for the artistry of all represented. For example, I was not too familiar with Arcade Fire or Blonde Redhead until hearing this disc. Just the opening track, “Empty Room” by Arcade Fire or “Misery is a Butterfly” by Blonde Redhead makes me realize why they were chosen and curious about more. Similarly, hearing the transcriptions of Radiohead brings a new appreciation to my mind [O’Riley has done albums of his improvisations on their tunes…Ed.] and although I have actually been a fan for awhile now, the Cocteau Twins offerings did the same. The John McLaughlin tunes show his gift for strong melody; highlighted by the sultry playing of Matt Haimovitz and Christopher O’Riley.
Oxingale Records and its publishing arm, Oxingale Music, is a catalogue of works written for, premiered by, and recorded by Matt Haimovitz. The sound quality is fabulous and the performances are golden. I have always loved new music and performers who introduce the lesser known to a classical listening base. Matt Haimovitz just might be my new favorite cellist for this reason. In 2006, he received the Concert Music Award from ASCAP for his advocacy of living composers and pioneering spirit, and in 2004, the American Music Center awarded Haimovitz the Trailblazer Award, for his far-reaching contributions to American music.
I cannot imagine any cellist – especially those who love stretching their performing rep – not loving this album or, for that matter, anyone who loves great playing and hearing not the “same old” recital material. This is a great listening experience and I recommend it heartily!
by Daniel Coombs
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