ROREM: After Reading Shakespeare; MORAVEC: Mark Twain Sez:; SPRATLAN: Shadow. Matt Haimovitz, cello. Oxingale 2012. 72 minutes.
HENDRIX/Haimovitz: Machine Gun; MACHOVER: VinylCello; WOOLF: Apres Moi, Le Deluge; SANFORD: Scherzo Grosso. Matt Haimovitz, cello; Uccello; DJ Olive; University of Wisconsin-Madison Concert Choir/Beverly Taylor; Pittsburgh Collective/David Sanford. Oxingale 2011. 77 minutes.
Matt Haimovitz is an outstanding cellist. He has a big, rich sound, a strong rhythmic sense, and a keen feel for musical structure, both on the local and global levels. His playing is marked by passion and musicality.
And he’s committed to modern and contemporary music.
Ned Rorem’s After Reading Shakespeare leads off a disc of pieces for solo cello. It’s one of the best works of the composer that I have heard. It is a suite of sharply-etched character pieces inspired by Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets. It makes a convincing whole as well, and Haimovitz plays it with authority.
Mark Twain Sez, by Paul Moravec, inspired by Twain aphorisms, is naturally in a somewhat lighter vein than Rorem’s work, and in a more immediately accessiable idiom. It provides many technical challenges for the cellist, and Haimovitz handles them with seeming ease.
The program closes with Lewis Spratlan’s Shadow, which is cast in four large movements, in contrast to the shorter forms of Rorem and Moravec. Spratlan’s rhetoric is more expansive than in the other pieces as well, and the forms unfold at a more leisurely pace, with highly characterized gestures recurring throughout, holding the piece together. These three works are in contrasting styles and take very different approaches to musical material and how it is structured. Haimovitz is in tune with all three approaches and delivers a strong case for all three works, as well as for the unaccompanied cello itself.
The other disc contains the first fruits of Buck the Concerto, Haimovitz’ commissioning program, whose mission is to create a body of literature for cello and unusual ensembles. The evidence on this disc is that the program will be a rousing artistic success. The program opens with Haimovitz’ own arrangement of Jimi Hendrix’ anti-war “Machine Gun”, for cello and cello ensemble. It is by far the best example of an arrangement of a rock song for concert music performers I have heard. It is nearly thirteen minutes of hard-driving rhythm, noise, wildly expressive melody, and passion.
Tod Machover has long been an innovator in the area of combining instruments and live electronics. His VinylCello, for cello, DJ, and live electronics, is inspired by the cello’s ability to sound like the human voice and the scratching of a DJ. The sounds of the cello are processed by the DJ (DJ Olive) and the cellist responds to them in real-time. The result is a sonic dreamscape that moves seamlessly between melody and pure sound.
Luna Pearl Woolf’s Apres Moi, Le Deluge, for cello and chorus, is a searing requiem for New Orleans, to a text by Eleanor Wilner. The words and music move through fear, anger, mourning, and finally, resolve. Woolf’s eclecticism is born of a rich set of associations in the poem’s subject. We hear gospel and jazz along modernist harmonies and effects. Under, around, and above it all is Haimovitz’ cello, now singing, now moaning in lament. The piece ends with a lone soprano, singing her hope of someday returning home.
Scherzo Grosso is a four-movement concerto for cello and big band by David Sanford. It is mostly notated, though there is some improvisation. Sanford uses the full timbral resources of the big band to great effect, with the cello line sometimes doubling the saxes, sometimes the electric guitar, and so on. The style is similar to that of the Don Ellis big band or Orange Then Blue. Haimovitz is as at home here as he is in the other sonic environments of the disc.
This would be an important release if only because of the work of Haimovitz’ Buck the Concerto program. But it is also a great listen.