Johann Sebastian Bach: 6 Suites for Cello Solo
Oxingale 2000 (3 CDs)
Listening to Matt Haimovitz’s new recording of Bach’s Six Suites is like hearing the classic recordings by Pablo Casals from the late 1930s in audiophile sound.
Both are driven by the exuberance of an eternally youthful spirit (Haimovitz is 30, Casals was in his early 60s), both relish the physical joys of their virtuosic technique, both phrase imaginatively and idiosyncratically without once breaking the integrity of the musical line.
Although it is anachronistic in Haimovitz’s case, both also prefer to play the notes as published rather than fill out multi-beat chords or embellish repeats (Haimovitz does play the repeat of the Menuet in Suite II pizzicato). Above all, both cellists speak directly to the heart with a genuine emotional incandescence that no other recording possesses.
Playing on a Gofriller cello of 1710, presumably the same one that was loaned to him by Casals’ widow some years ago, Haimovitz boldly emphasizes, often with courageously large and extravagant gestures, the music’s pervasive dance rhythms and key melodic phrases.
At the same time, he allows himself to fall under (though not indulge in) the long hypnotic reveries that Bach implies so frequently. Haimovitz even makes the musically remote and technically intimidating 5th and 6th suites sound like the culmination of the set that they must be, but so rarely are.
In sum, Haimovitz combines the kind of no-holds-barred personal commitment and passion that will appeal to sophisticated music lovers while turning on children and other newcomers — not only to Bach, but to the cello — by providing thrilling, direct access to a musical universe of unique power and beauty.
A large part of the success is due to the spectacular sound produced by Haimovitz’s wife, the composer Luna Pearl Woolf. Rich with color, and clear as a bell without the slightest hint of artificiality, these recordings were made in the Congregational Church of Plainfield, Massachusetts.
Oxingale itself, described as an amalgam of a record label, a limited edition press, a “concert content incubator” and a Web site, takes its name from Voltaire’s remark, upon hearing the great French cellist Jean-Louis Duport (for whom Beethoven may have written his Opus 5 Cello Sonatas) perform, “Sir, you made me believe in miracles; you know how to turn an ox into a nightingale.”
The liner notes, comprised of personal reminiscences and reflections by Haimovitz and Woolf, illuminate both the music making and the recording process by blending history, philosophy and poetry.
When the last session was finished, Woolf says, “We could finally laugh about unintentionally recording tractors and lawn mowers, even the sound of the wind — so strong on the first day it had pushed the church bell into its own ringer. In the end we watched what seemed like an endless stream of shooting stars.”