for the people: Matt Haimovitz.
By B.A. Nilsson
Matt Haimovitz and Itamar Golan
Lena, April 16
Even before cellist Matt Haimovitz applied bow to strings,
the small but ardent Caffe Lena audience was prepared for
a very different experience. You don’t often see a cello travel
down the aisle to the stage in that venue; you don’t often
hear a classical music performer in any venue speak as casually
and compellingly as Haimovitz.
He and pianist Itamar Golan collaborated on a recently released
CD that pays tribute to Haimovitz’s mentor, legendary cellist
Leonard Rose. Two of the works on the Caffe Lena program appear
on that CD; the rest of the program would make an equally
Chamber music ostensibly started out in small chambers, and
this hall is as intimate as they come, a perfect environment
for cello and piano. Given the world-class talent of these
artists, who have impressive international careers, it can’t
have been the most economically feasible stop on their itinerary,
but what a boon for the audience!
Haimovitz opened the program with Five Pieces in Folk Style,
Op. 102, by Schumann—a suitable beginning, he suggested, for
a recital in a folk haven. He also explained that it’s a work
that Rose shied away from because of some tricky double-stops
in the third piece.
They were no challenge for Haimovitz, who also honored the
Romantic characteristics of that movement with well-applied
portamento and rhythmic effects. All five of the component
pieces sound more Schumannesque than outright folklike, but
that’s an indication of how thoroughly classical music used
to mine folk-music elements.
The opening piece, marked “Mit Humor,” kicks into a
lively dance that Haimovitz colored, in its restatement, with
a sul tasto (bowing on the fingerboard) effect that’s
just one of the many interpretive techniques he brings to
Robert Stern’s Hazkarah was written in 1998, a memorial
for genocides and holocausts past and present, drawing inspiration
from Ruth Bondy’s Elder of the Jew: Jakob Edelstein of
Thereisenstadt—in particular, as Haimovitz explained,
the line “They died because they were not allowed to live.”
With the concert falling the first day of Passover during
a time when more butchery is staining the Middle East, it
was especially poignant.
It’s a brooding work with outcries of passion reminiscent
of Bloch, but with more abstraction in its melodic lines.
During its 10 minutes it draws you into an increasingly molten
emotional state, finishing with a solo cry from the cello,
and it seemed to have been the most troublesome to its listeners
according to my intermission eavesdropping. But this is exactly
what music needs to do to stay alive: What good is it if it’s
The first half finished with Chopin’s Polonaise brilliante,
a virtuoso piece in two sections that set the cello ablaze
and also allowed the piano to cut loose. Golan was nothing
short of masterful, sure-fingered, colorful, secure. He had
a challenge trying to bully and wheedle far more sound from
the Caffe’s upright than the poor instrument could produce.
One work dominated the second half: Shostakovich’s Cello
Sonata, Op. 40. Again, Haimovitz talked a bit about the
piece before playing it, and I wish more performers had the
confidence and personality to do the same. It really helped
prep the audience.
Drawing much of its thematic material from film scores he’d
written, Shostakovich wove it into a four- movement sonata
that’s a characteristic ride from cynical ebullience to lyrical
despair. And he’s not sparing in the challenges. The first
movement’s martial flavor sent the cello from a rough-toned
passage into a web of beautiful arpeggios; in the second,
cello and piano chased each other with a perpetual-motion
figure. The largo that followed showed off more of Golan’s
superb lyricism, and the piece finished off with a hilarious,
touching movement originally written to accompany an animated
film about a hapless drunk.
Following clamorous calls for more, the duo encored with an
arrangement of the opening of Bloch’s Scenes from Hassidic
Life, a tender work that brought the concert to a quiet
music is all the rage with the faltering classical-music CD
labels, who try to package pop stuff into easily digestible,
NPR-friendly packages. If we had more crossover performances
like this, the music world wouldn’t be in so much trouble.