Notes and Editorial Reviews
After Reading Shakespeare.
Mark Twain Sez.
Matt Haimovitz (vc)
OXINGALE 2012 (71:41)
This disc, titled after the first work on it, is a
tour de force
by one of the most exciting and technically assured cellists I’ve ever heard. Nor am I alone in my admiration, for I notice that Mark Haimovitz has
been consistently praised in these pages.
After Reading Shakespeare
was written for and recorded by Sharon Robinson in March 1982. That original recording, miraculously, is still available today on Naxos. Her performance was inventive, exploratory, well nuanced. Haimovitz is all that, and more—highly dramatic, tonally powerful, and technically beyond reproach. Ah, but I must take issue with the sound quality, which—like many of Chandos’s discs—is over-reverberant. Why do classical labels insist on engineering classical recordings as if they were pop records? Do they really think that some punk or heavy metal headbanger is going to be turned on by Haimovitz playing Rorem if the sound quality is swimming in echo? Somehow I doubt it. Said headbanger, if he does gravitate to Rorem, is going to do so with or without the extra reverb, and I for one am sick of it.
Haimovitz takes an extra two minutes more than Robinson does (23 to her 21) to progress through this short cycle, but on its own merits there is absolutely nothing about it that sounds out of place or sluggish. Indeed, the poetry he imparts to “Katherine” and “Portia” is simply breathtaking, and he manages to find just the right jazzy feel for “Titania and Oberon.” For those unfamiliar with the cycle, which was also recorded successfully by Richard Slavich a decade ago on Crystal, it is typical Ned Rorem: quirky, brief, but challenging, pieces that keep the listener wondering what happens next. My favorite pieces were the neurotic opening, “Lear,” the playful “Titania and Oberon,” and the splendid “Caliban” that captures the oddball personality of the best character in Shakespeare’s
Mark Twain Sez
are world-premiere recordings of works that I found to be completely delightful. Neither the box insert nor the brief liner notes say whether it’s Haimovitz or composer Paul Moravec reading the Twain quotes at the beginning of each piece, but I suspect it’s the cellist. “Growth,” like Rorem’s “Lear,” is an energetic, almost neurotic opening number; “Humor” is slightly sardonic, as is Twain’s comment on it; “Butterfly/Kangaroo” reminds one of Prokofiev’s “Dance of the Knights” from
Romeo and Juliet
; “Procrastination” is a quick, scalar melody interrupted by pizzicato passages that keep raising the pitch. “The Heart” builds on a heartbeat tempo in the beginning and lyrical passages with chords that are melodic, but broken into short phrases. “Night” begins with rapid bowing high in the cello range, creating an atmosphere of drama and uncertainty that, divided by pauses, is occasionally interspersed with soft pizzicato pluckings. “We are all mad” gallops in elephantine style through strange modal permutations, while the closer, “Day dreaming,” opens with Haimovitz playing softly on the edge of the strings, creating an unreality between waking and dreaming. Lazy triplets played sumptuously in the lower register give an indication of grounding in reality which is constantly interrupted by the day dream.
was written specifically for Haimovitz in 2006 by Lewis Spratlan. To quote the liner notes, it “imagines that music has mass and can both cast a shadow and be hidden in shadow.” Spratlin accomplishes this by using the same notes in the first half of each of the four movements as in the second half, but making substantial changes in register, tempo, and articulation. It’s an interesting and fun piece to listen to, but except for the second movement, “Rambo/Rimbaud,” there is really no literary allusion in this work at all. In the first and fourth (last) movements, the shadowing effect happens on a microcosmic level as well, sometimes having just a handful of notes followed by their shadow. In the first, for instance, high, agitated music and low, sonorous snippets alternate; these are followed by their shadows, but later on the shadows begin wandering into each other’s territory until a songful melody tries to reconcile the two opposed registers. For the uninitiated, I should like to point out that
is not as playful or relaxing as its title implies, but is an edgy, rhythmically strong piece that meanders despite its rigidly intellectual layout. I liked it, and you might too, but it’s not as immediately appealing as the Rorem or Moravec numbers.
At this point, Haimovitz needs no introduction from me to readers, but since this is my first impression of him I would say—judging, of course, through the sea of echo in which he is enveloped here—that his tone is full and resonant but not as sensuous as Colin Carr’s or Yo-Yo Ma’s; his technique is quite spectacular and, it seems, specifically tailored for contemporary music. To say whether this kind of playing could be adapted to more conventional works or not I cannot tell, but within his choice of repertoire he is superb; and, with Yo-Yo going into La-La Land with over-romanticized performances of other contemporary works (his recording of Rabih Abou-Khalil’s
, for instance, was completely wide of the mark), the field of adventurous cello-playing today is clearly Haimovitz’s personal domain.
FANFARE: Lynn René Bayley
Works on This Recording
Shadow by Lewis Spratlan
Matt Haimovitz (Cello)
Period: 20th Century
Mark Twain Sez by Paul Moravec
Matt Haimovitz (Cello)
Period: 20th Century
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