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After Reading Shakespeare
(b. 1923)
After Reading Shakespeare (1980) [23:19]
Paul MORAVEC (b. 1957)
Mark Twain Sez (2006) [22:07]
Lewis SPRATLAN (b. 1940)
Shadow (2006) [26:04]
Matt Haimovitz (cello)
rec. 21–23 June 2007, Église Saint-Augustin, Saint-Augustin, Quebec. DDD

Seventy-one 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.
All 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.
Rorem 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.
What follows are two works commissioned by Haimovitz as companion pieces to the Rorem.
Paul 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.
I 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 accessible.
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.
Bob Briggs


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