February 01, 2012
The winds of change certainly blew through the Perimeter Institute’s Event Horizons program this season. Previously, we had string quartets, famed soloists (piano, violin, cello) — playing largely standard repertoire. But WLU’s adventurous Peter Hatch was invited to try out something a bit different, and he has come up with a four-concert season for the winter and spring that will do for revolutionary. (There’s an eminent Viola da gambist, the fabulous percussionist Evelyn Glennie, and the Shanghai Quartet, but with a pipa player as guest artist.) Of course, a cello and piano team such as in this concert could have been same old — but with Mr. Haimovitz on a program, we know better than to expect that.
This program — not specified in the distributed literature, but announced (mostly) from the stage, with helpful explanations in some cases — did a very good job of bridging the classical and popular music worlds. Actually, the pieces went by gradations rather than a leap over a chasm, and that’s all to the good. Haimovitz opened with one bit of solo work, a piece by the noted American John Corigliano called Fancy on a Bach Air (the Bach theme is never quoted verbatim — I’m guessing the Prelude to no. 1, but a better-informed source thinks it’s the minuet.) It seemed to me a touch on the austere side — not as moving as the original, certainly, despite the beautiful performance. Thereafter O’Riley was in on the action, first with the “prelude” to the movie Vertigo, whose score is by Bernard Hermann. It’s a thriller, like the movie itself. (Much later in the program came a romantic tune from the same score, gorgeously played.) Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne, adapted from his pantomime Pulcinella, has become one of his most popular works, and this team played most of the transcribed movements — with lots of character, and a really vivid finale. And then a bit from a piece by Radiohead, with beautifully played high harmonics in the cello, and lovingly played rapid arpeggios in the piano. Then the first half concluded with Five Variations on a Slovakian Tune by Bohuslav Martinu, the tune being thoughtful (a dumka perhaps), and the variations ranging from impish to fiery (a furiant, perhaps) — wonderful piece, played superbly.
The second half of the program continued the Czech component with Janacek’s intriguing short work, Pohádka, based on a folk tale. This intimate, subtle piece needs a better piano than the borrowed Steinway on hand, but it’s a gem. And then what some would regard as the high point of the program, a five-movement piece from music of Anton Webern, made by sandwiching his Three Little Pieces for Cello and Piano [total, about 2 min.] between two early tonal pieces (he was 16 then) Fascinating combination, brilliantly played. After that, O’Riley put in one solo piano effort, the Prelude and Love-Death from Tristan and Isolde, with condensed prelude, set by Liszt, Moszkowsky, and O’Riley — again, the piano got in the way of full success on this one, though played with ample passion. The finale piece before encores came from John McLaughlin’s Dance of Maya, and it’s quite an amazing work, starting out like a beautiful classic, then through an astonishing chordal transition turning into a boogie rhythm with an excruciatingly fast guitar part played unbelievably well by Haimovitz. And it ends with some work in the ultra-high register of the cello the like of which this listener, at any rate, has never heard. A few pieces to remind the listener that we are hearing from true masters of their instruments are not out of place, after all.
There were also two dandy encores, on pieces from the award-winning group Arcade Fire (In the Back Seat and a most misleadingly titled Empty Room — at least, there was nothing empty about the music!
These two brilliant and imaginative virtuosos with their antenna tuned to a huge variety of sources have put together a program of truly uncommon interest. (Much of it is on their new disc Shuffles, which was sold at the concert and deserves to sell a zillion or so.)
by Jan Narveson
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