The Buffalo News: Overtures to Bach Album Review

August 5, 2016


Various Composers, Overtures to Bach performed by cellist Matt Haimovitz (Pentatone/Oxingale)

Almost all cellists have personal relationships to Bach’s magnificent Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello. Matt Haimovitz, though, had the idea to commission six contemporary composers “to engage with his music. It’s my form of time travel – going back to the mind of Bach through the compositional process of these composers today. … I feel like giving back to Bach.”

Whether Bach would appreciate it in kind is a whole other matter. The six composers commissioned are, indeed, very different from each other and not necessarily the ones one might think easily attuned to Bach’s vast musical universe. But then, it’s impossible not to find it more than a little interesting to know what, say, Philip Glass and jazz composer/pianist Vijay Iyer thought might introduce the prelude to Bach’s First Suite in D-minor and Third Suite in C-major respectively.

Haimovitz’ idea here is to follow each one of his contemporary composers’ works with preludes to each one of the unaccompanied cello sonatas. Chinese coposer Du Yun in “The Veronica” makes reference to a Russian prayer for the dead, Serbian chant and Central European fiddle music. Roberto Sierra, in introducing the prelude for Bach’s Suite No. 4, “juxtaposes my own childhood memories of Pablo
Casals on one side and the street music of Puerto Rico on the other.”

In dealing with David Sanford’s “Es War” says Haimovitz, “I had to unearth an inner Charles Mingus to tackle it” because it’s “a tour de force of pizzicato.” The disc ends with a piece written by Haimovitz’ composer wife Luna Pearl Woolf named for “the last monarch of Hawaii” and (long ago) that sovereign nation’s “First Queen.”

3 stars (out of four)

By: Jeff Simon

Read at: The Buffalo News

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