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Philip GLASS (b. 1937)
Partita No. 2 for Solo Cello (2010) [33:31]
The Secret Agent for Solo Cello (1996) [4:22]
The Paris Sky for Solo Cello (from Book of Longing) [1:44]
Partita No. 1 “Songs & Poems” for Solo Cello (2007) [29:04]
Matt Haimovitz (cello)
rec. 2016, Mission Sound, Brooklyn

Philip Glass is quoted extensively in the booklet notes for this release, taking us from the taste he developed for Bach’s solo cello pieces as a young boy working in his father’s store, through the learning process of writing as well as possible for strings, and his attitude to interpretation. This last point is the healthy attitude that one performer’s version of a piece of music should have as much validity as any other, also rejecting the idea that the composer is always right.

Cellist Matt Haimovitz is a true pioneer of contemporary music, and we can have faith in these performances as being true to the composer’s wishes. The public première of the Partita No. 2 was on 22nd June 2017, so this recording is ‘hot’ in that regard, despite the work having had to wait seven years before appearing before an audience. There are some passages in these seven movements that have an association with minimalist repetition, but the associations are more often with Glass’s string quartets, for instance in the slow cadences and melodic expressiveness of Movement III. There is more a sense of continuous variation going on than anything else. Glass explores sonorities and melodic cells, at times lingering over their textures and at times having them leap out with an etude-like character, though the overall mood is quite introspective.

The Partita No.1 has a different character to the Second Partita, opening with a Song I which has more of a ‘concert’ character, with extrovert gestures and more overt technical virtuosity. Expressively established harmonies are a feature of these pieces, over which at times folk-music like features or dramatically placed events emerge. Each piece has its own narrative sense, and could almost be counted as programmatic if anyone were to dare ascribe certain texts to them. It is noticeable that both Partitas end with comparable, perhaps even complimentary movements that commence with a similar Indian-style meditation over an open fifth interval.

The Secret Agent is from music for a film by Christopher Hampton of the same name from 1996, an effective setting for both Joseph Conrad’s drama and its period. The Paris Sky is a brief section from his ‘Book of Longing’ song cycle that uses the poetry of Leonard Cohen.

Perfectly decent to listen to, this is one of those recordings that makes you wonder a little about the settings of your sound reproduction equipment. Compared to other cello recordings I have been listening to of late it at first sounded rather muddy, but I’m now in doubt as to whether this is an effect of balance or represents Matt Haimovitz’s particular sound in these pieces. Listening through smaller earphones brought some upper resonances more into the picture, though the sound still reminds me at times of a double bass as much as it does a cello.

Dominy Clements



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