It’s been more than a dozen years since Matt Haimovitz first took Bach’s solo cello suites on tour across North America in nontraditional venues. On Saturday, he brought them to Georgetown’s Dumbarton Church, where he presented the six suites — split in two back-to-back performances — in a refreshing old-meets-new light.
Tackling the first three suites in the midafternoon recital, Haimovitz teased out the intricate colors, textures and timbres on his 1710 Matteo Goffriller cello, strung with metal strings for an upcoming concert. The instrument’s resonant character served the Suite No. 1 in G, BWV 1007, well, with Haimovitz trailing unfettered lyricism throughout the six movements.
If the first suite revealed joyous wonder, then the Suite No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1008, was its antithesis, with unspeakable grief and grit underpinning the lines that Haimovitz created. In his remarks, the cellist noted that Bach had written the composition following the deaths of his first wife and one of their children. That sense of loss permeated Haimovitz’s interpretation, yielding an elegiac prelude, a furious courante and a resigned sarabande.
Despite having the works committed to memory, Haimovitz performed with an iPad displaying Bach’s historical manuscript as copied by second wife Anna Magdalena, though the cellist rarely referred to the score.
For all the musical liberties he took in the first two suites, Haimovitz restrained from using rubato and swells in the Suite No. 3 in C, BWV 1009, and instead employed pure baroque styling. The resulting tempos, terraced dynamics and adornments all served to highlight Bach’s compositional genius.
Jean is a freelance writer.