Kod‡ly, Britten, Berio, Henze

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COMPOSERS: Berio,Britten,Henze,Kodaly
LABELS: DG
ALBUM TITLE: Collection: The 20th-Century Cello
WORKS: Cello Sonata
PERFORMER: Matt Haimovitz (cello)
CATALOGUE NO: 445 834-2 DDD
At the age of 25, the prodigious Israeli cellist Matt Haimovitz is already a veteran of the international concert stage, and this is his second disc of works from the fearsomely difficult solo cello repertoire. He has a powerful musical presence but, despite some fantastic playing, perhaps he could have waited before recording the Kodály. This sonata has been the nemesis of many a star cellist, and there are times when it defeats him, as at the beginning of the third movement, when uncontrolled spiccato distorts the line or his tuning strains in the double-stopped passages.

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The Britten, though, receives a reverent performance and allows Haimovitz space to reveal his particular tonal beauty. He brings out all the dark hues of the Russian hymn for the dead (‘Kontakion’), yet slips nimbly into an eerie, playful fluency in the ‘dialogo’, ‘recitativo’ and ‘moto perpetuo’.

The pieces by Luciano Berio and Hans Werner Henze are both based on the name ‘Sacher’, and were commissioned by Rostropovich for the famous patron’s seventieth birthday. As Henze says of his own piece, Haimovitz ‘walks the tightrope’, but acquits himself with conviction.

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There have been many solo cello discs this year: I am not convinced they make the best listening. Surely these introverted 20th-century works, with their tortuous dialectic, require the massed concentration of a concert audience in order to live? Helen Wallace