Listen to the Recording: Released on 01-08-2016 Pentatone. PTC 5186561
Commissioned by Matt Haimovitz, for Overture to Bach Project
About the Work
( Matt Haimovitz, worldwide tour the Bach Overture Project)
Matt Haimovitz’s continuously-evolving and intense engagement with the Bach Cello Suites reaches a new zenith with Overtures to Bach, six new commissions that anticipate and reflect each of the cello suites. The new overtures expand upon the multitude of spiritual, cross-cultural, and vernacular references found in the Bach, building a bridge from the master’s time to our own. The solo cello recital has been a Haimovitz trademark since the year 2000, when he made waves with his Bach “Listening-Room” Tour, in unconventional venues throughout the US. In the fall of 2015, he released his profound new interpretation of the Bach Suites, The Cello Suites According to Anna Magdalena, inspired and informed by an authoritative manuscript by Bach’s second wife, and performed on period instruments.
The new album, Overtures to Bach, pairs each new work with the Prélude from the suite it introduces, with Haimovitz performing on cello and cello piccolo. Philip Glass simply and eloquently prepares the audience for the first Suite with his Overture, encouraging an open and calm frame of mind. For the second suite, Du Yun creates a heartbreaking quilt of cries in The Veronica, mingling a Russian Orthodox prayer for the dead, Serbian chant, and central European gypsy fiddle music. Vijay Iyer’s Run responds to Bach’s third suite with infectious energy and kinesthetic rhythms that celebrate the natural resonance of the instrument as well as the composer’s jazz roots. Then, Roberto Sierra’s La memoria plays on our memory of Bach’s Suite IV, seamlessly referencing motivic fragments and creating a kaleidoscopic mirage with the exotic flavors of Caribbean bass lines and salsa rhythms. David Sanford’s Es War, a response to the fifth suite, opens with a tour de force of pizzicato, then wrestles with Bach’s epic fugue with a saxophone’s wails. For the sixth and final suite, Luna Pearl Woolf is inspired by pre-Western Hawaiian chant, taking full advantage of the virtuosic properties of the cello piccolo and treating it operatically, from the low bass to the soprano stratosphere.
Overtures to Bach spans more than time, linking us to far-flung corners of our musical world and offering an entrée into six distinct compositional voices. Then, as Philip Glass writes, “Just let Bach’s music begin. It’s there for the listening.”
If you do not know, Matt Haimovitz is that enormously talented, accomplished and daring more-or-less young cellist who has embarked on a series of brilliant, genre bending cello albums that I have covered on this blog–many of them anyway. Even though I awoke this morning with the musical theme from the Bugs Bunny Show playing in my head (“On with the show, this is it!”), Matt’s latest is a bit more serious, to say the least. (But then Bugs Bunny was seriously funny, so….)
It is called Overtures to Bach (Pentatone Oxingale Series 5186 561), and fittingly so. The Prelude movements from Bach’s six Suites for Solo Cello form the cornerstone of the album. Each of the Preludes are wondrously performed, but as a kind of answer to six newly composed cello solo works meant to pay homage to and comment upon the essence of the solo cello Bach.
So we get modern yet absorbingly timeless works by Philip Glass, Du Yun, Vijay Iyer, Roberto Sierra, David Sanford and Luna Pearl Woolf. Many of the works make rather extraordinary technical demands on Haimowitz and of course he is very much up for the challenge. But then a proper interpretation of the Preludes demands no less.
Once you relax your expectations and listen with naked ears it all becomes a part of a whole, of Bach and what he brings to us today, of modern contemporary works today and how they channel Bach in contrasting fashions. The modern works were written, especially commissioned for this project and so enjoy their world premiere recordings.
After a few listens everything flows together marvelously. It’s another considerable feather in the Haimovitz cap. He is one of those special forces on the contemporary scene and as usual he gets you to hear differently while also bringing to us his unparalleled musicality.
For those who love Bach and/or for those firmly involved in new music listening, this one is a most fascinating revelation. I wholeheartedly recommend it.