Last Week Intermezzo Host Chris Wolf had an opportunity to chat with cellist Matt Haimovitz about this marvelous new recording of French music for cello. See the complete conversation with this remarkable cellist here:
The cellist Matt Haimovitz has been hailed by critics as a ferociously talented cellist, who brings his megawatt sound and his uncommon expressive gifts to a vast variety of musical styles. In addition to a gruelling touring schedule pre COVID, he also teaches an award winning cello studio at McGill’s Schulich School of Music.
Haimovitz made his debut with the Israeli Philharmonic under the direction of Zubin Mehta at the age of 13, and has gone on to perform as soloist with the Berlin Philharmonic, the New York Philharmonic, and the Boston Symphony to name just a few. He is a graduate of the Julliard School where he studied with the renowned cellist Leonard Rose, and graduated from Harvard Magna Cum Laude.
He has recorded several CDs on various labels and has just recently put out a sumptuously gorgeous album of French Music called “Mon Ami, Mon Amour.”
Like many things in life tragedy begets creativity, for Haimovitz the tragedy in question was an unfortunate event involving his 300 year old Venetian cello. While working on the Poulenc Cello sonata with the well-known Canadian cellist Cameron Crozman, Haimovitz reached for a copy of his score to the piece, and lost his balance. “I had to make a split second decision; do I land on the cello, or do I release it and see what happens.” says Haimovitz. He chose the latter; the result being that then cello broke in two big pieces. So began a momentous journey that would result in the cello being essentially rebuilt over the span of a year and half by no less than four luthiers in New York. “I came in it was like the ICU,” says Haimovitz “the ribs were on one wall, the belly was on someone’s desk, the back was being reshaped. The whole thing was surreal and very painful to watch.” When the cello was repaired and returned to Haimovitz it was well worth it. “It took a little playing to resuscitate it, but ultimately I couldn’t be happier! It sounds so glorious and full bodied,” Haimovitz says.
The Album “Mon Ami, Mon Amour” is the first album that Haimovitz has recorded with this newly resuscitated cello, and the results are indeed remarkable! Since the cello was broken while Haimovitz was teaching the Poulenc cello sonata, it would make sense that the Poulenc should be recorded, but also works by Ravel, Debussy, Milhaud, and the Boulanger sisters Nadia and Lili are also performed on this brilliant recording.
This is an album where Haimovitz and his cello really sing! The colours and expressive characters on this disc are wonderfully played. As Haimovitz says ‘There is a novel in the Poulenc Sonata,” and Haimovitz plays each chapter of this novel, in a way that you will not want to put it down! In the Debussy sonata he brings out all of the textures and timbres that make Debussy’s voice so distinctively French, while always keeping in mind the fact that Debussy often looked back to the Baroque, and essentially was continuing on the tradition of Beethoven.
When asked about what it is that Haimovitz finds so engaging about playing French music, the answer is simple, “I love to sing on my cello…I deal so much in the world of the abstract with instrumental music. Both to have words to give something more concrete meaning and also the visual aspect.. something that can tell a story or a narrative; for me that’s very important in this French music.”
The Ravel “Kaddish” on this recording is an excellent case in point, the cello acts as the cantor and Haimovitz uses the words of the Hebrew Kaddish prayer to help him get across the emotions that are expressed in the music. “Ravel in not Jewish but he somehow manages to capture the Jewish soul in this music.” Haimovitz says.
When it comes to French cello music, this disc is really something special, recorded with world renowned pianist Mari Kodama, Haimovitz and Kodama have created a recording that is unparalleled in its expressive beauty and wealth of tonal colours.