May 30, 2013
NEW LEBANON, N.Y. — There are two ways of looking at cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Christopher O’Riley’s passion for playing O’Riley’s arrangements of pop.
On the one hand, why are fine classical musicians like these swelling the already vast chorus of pop in the land? On the other hand, if variety helps them to play an all-classical concert as stimulating as the one that opened the Tannery Pond concert season Saturday night, why not?
Since 2011, the duo has been touring genre-bending programs mixing classical pieces with O’Riley’s arrangements of rock, jazz and movie music. Their two-disc album, “Shuffle Play Listen,” fits the mold. Classical equals pop equals classical equals pop. It’s the iPod shuffle.
Not so for Tannery Pond. Director Christian Steiner requested an all-classical program for his classically oriented audience, and Haimovitz and O’Riley obliged. The rainy-night series opener sketched an arc of Russian music in the first half of the 20th century, going (in this order) from Stravinsky’s “Suite Italienne” (1922) to the only cello-piano sonatas by Prokofiev (1949) and Rachmaninoff (1901).
You couldn’t quite say the players were on the same page. Haimovitz used a foot-activated digital reader, and O’Riley played from memory.
More significantly, Haimovitz played his 1710 Gofriller instrument with a warm, generously multi-hued tone, while O’Riley employed a more incisive touch. If Haimovitz seemed the more forward player even in the Rachmaninoff sonata, with its virtuoso piano part composed by a virtuoso pianist — each performance nevertheless enjoyed unity, body and character.
The Stravinsky suite came in cellist Gregor Piatigorsky’s arrangement of Stravinsky’s own arrangement of his “Pulcinella” ballet music for small orchestra. (And the ballet itself is an arrangement of baroque pieces.) Some of the original’s spice was necessarily lost, but the duo neatly conveyed the ideas of dance and commedia dell’arte characters. The Serenata, weeping and trudging by turn, was especially witty.
Behind the dissonances and acid of the Prokofiev sonata breathes a lyrical spirit, and it was this heart of the matter that the players brought forth. The work was composed for cellist Mstislav Rostropovich, whose big-hearted sound and embrace Haimovitz recalled.
A similar spirit ruled even more ardently in the ultra-romantic Rachmaninoff sonata, whose lushness can invite sprawl and excess in performance. Soaring melody and, in the scherzo, demonic energy were undergirded by attention to structure and nuance.
Despite the nasty weather, a capacity audience filled the former Shaker tannery for the program, which also opened the Berkshires’ summer concert season. For an encore, there was O’Riley’s arrangement of the rock band Arcade Fire’s “In the Back Seat.” Classical equals pop equals classical.
by: Andrew L. Pincus
red at: Berkshire Eagle