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After Reading Shakespeare
Ned ROREM (b. 1923)
After Reading Shakespeare (1980) [23:19]
Paul MORAVEC (b.
Mark Twain Sez (2006) [22:07]
Lewis SPRATLAN (b.
Shadow (2006) [26:04]
rec. 21–23 June 2007, Église Saint-Augustin, Saint-Augustin,
RECORDS OX2012 [71:41]
minutes of music, or, to put it another way, three multi-movement
suites, for solo cello, each playing for over twenty minutes.
It’s a daunting prospect for anyone. Add to this the fact that
none of the music is in a straightforward musical style. Bear
in mind also that, unlike the Bach Suites, this is not the
easiest music to listen to and you’ve got this CD.
three composers represented here have won the Pulitzer Prize
for music, and each carries with him an impressive array of
grants, fellowships and commissions. Impressive stuff, but
it’s the music that matters. I’m not sure that any of these
pieces would appeal if they were the first example of each
composer heard by someone coming new to their work.
wrote his nine movement suite for Sharon Robinson in 1980.
Each carries a title and quote from a Shakespeare play. Perhaps
because of his response to words, Rorem has created a suite
which is full of passion, humour and tenderness; the first
two movements for Lear and Katherine (Henry V) are full of
emotion (passionate and tender). They set the scene for the
cast of characters which follows. It’s fine stuff, hardly an
easy listen, but well worth the time spent in study.
follows are two works commissioned by Haimovitz as companion
pieces to the Rorem.
Moravec has been a name known to me for some time, but I’ve
never managed to hear any of his music … not until now. He’s
written over ninety works in all genres except opera, and has
over twenty pieces currently available on disk. Mark Twain
Sez is, I suppose, meant to be humorous. Each of the eight
movements is given a title and a quote from Twain. These the
cellist recites prior to playing the music – my favourite is “Never
put off till tomorrow what you can do the day after tomorrow” (the
title of the fourth movement). What follows is Moravec’s response
to the words. The first movement, Growth, starts in
the lowest realms of the cello, slow and quiet, and “grows” into
fast, loud, music in a high register. The second, Humor (“The
source of all humor is not laughter, but sorrow”) sees the
cello playing plaintive music which is supposed to be sorrowful.
I feel I need not go on. The musical expression of the texts
is far too literal and the composer’s thoughts never stray
from his source material. I find it all too leaden-footed and
far too earth-bound for its aspirations.
had not heard of Lewis Spratlan before. He studied with Mel
Powell and Gunther Schuller at Yale. There he was a member
of the Yale Spizzwinks(?) – the question mark and brackets
are part of the name - a group of male students which is the
second oldest collegiate a cappella group in America. The oldest
are the Whiffenpoofs - Cole Porter was in the original lineup
- dating back to 1914. He has been on the faculty of Amherst College since 1970 and
is now Peter Pouncey Professor of Music Emeritus there. Possibly
due to his academic duties his output is not large. A mere
forty-two works - including two operas - are listed on his
web site. Shadows makes me want to hear more. However,
at 26 minutes it is overlong. Try the work movement by movement
and get to know it gradually, forget Spratlan’s note about
music having mass and being able to cast shadows. Listen instead
to these four movements as absolute music - they are quite
Apart from cellists seeking new repertoire, Matt Haimovitz fans and the
most ardent of new music freaks I cannot really see who this
CD is aimed at. I found it a difficult and not entirely rewarding
experience and I’ve been listening to new music for over
forty years! Haimovitz plays brilliantly with total conviction
and evident belief in the music. The recording is very good
and bright but for me the soloist is too close to the microphone
and the sound, at times, is too in-yer-face. I would have
liked a bit of distance between myself and the cello rather
than feeling that I was sitting inside the cello! A feeling
of the church in which the recording was made would have
been nice, too.
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