Matt Haimovetz, cello – “Overtures to Bach” – composed by PHILIP GLASS, VIJAY IYER, ROBERTO SIERRA, DU YUN, LUNA PEARL WOOLF plus The Six BACH: Cello Suites (Preludes only) – Pentatone multichannel SACD PTC 5186 561, 75:48 (9/9/16) [Distr. by Naxos] ****:
6 unique takes on the Bach Cello Suites plus Bach.
Overtures to Bach is an intriguing idea for a disc. Cellist Matt Haimovitz has selected the Preludes of the six Bach Cello Suites, then commissioned six contemporary composers to write overtures, or preludes to the six Bach Preludes performed on this disc.
While potentially the project could have been an unpleasant musical gimmick, the reality is that this is a wonderful disc, with music that compliments rather than works against the Bach.
Haimowitz is a tremendously talented cellist, and he’s long been associated with the Bach Cello Suites. As a youth, he took his cello around the country for impromptu concerts at coffee houses and bars, all to great acclaim. He’s been a featured soloist with many of the world’s great orchestras, including the Atlanta Symphony, the Tokyo New Japan Philharmonic, and the Berlin Philharmonic.
The disc begins with a premier of a short Philip Glass work, that precedes Bach’s Prelude from Suite 1 in G Minor. The Glass composition, simply titled Overture, takes it’s cues from the Bach and creates a lovely piece. Other works are generally equally successful, but while taking musical cues from the Bach suites, they are quite contemporary in sound. Some are even dissonant, but I think they all ‘work’.
For the second suite, Du Yun offers 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 energy and 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, referencing motivic fragments and creating a kaleidoscopic mirage with the flavors of Caribbean bass lines and salsa rhythms. David Sanford’s Es War, a response to the Fifth Suite, opens with pizzicato, then proceeds to 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 in a work called Lili uokalani for solo cello piccolo. As a package, musically this disc becomes a unified musical whole, and I think has a lot to offer listeners.
In terms of sonics, the disc is excellent, but of course, we’re only hearing a cello. It’s well-recorded, with a particularly realistic and solid low end. The disc was recorded in 5.0, so the surrounds are limited to hints of the recording space, but with all my speakers engaged there is a realistic sound.
I can heartily recommend this disc for Bach lovers who want to extend their musical vistas and any music lover who wants a stimulating and engaging experience.