Tuesday, December 6, 2005

Matt Haimovitz

Aman carrying a cello walks into a bar. It sounds like the setup for a bawdy joke, but for Matt Haimovitz it's the beginning of another performance on his latest tour.

The cellist began playing nightclubs a few years ago, seeking an alternative to the traditional concert hall and endeavoring to shed some of the formality of chamber music. On this tour, the theme is "Goulash!," hearkening back to Haimovitz's Eastern European roots with music by Bela Bartok, Zoltan Kodaly and Gyorgy Ligeti.

Iota Club and Cafe in Arlington was an ideal spot for Haimovitz's chamber clubbing. On Sunday night, Haimovitz and violinist Andy Simionescu opened the show with transcriptions of Bach's Two-Part Inventions. Competing with the murmur of the crowd and clink of glasses, Haimovitz cut through the din with his extraordinary musical touch.

Haimovitz and Simionescu skillfully fashioned a dramatic suite of Bartok's Duos, miniatures reflecting the composer's fascination with folk music. They captured the sound of joyful dancing, woeful lament, bagpipes and buzzing mosquitoes with their committed, stylistically concise interpretation. Haimovitz's perfectly executed double-stops and artistic phrasing in a sonata by Ligeti kept the momentum going through this thought-provoking piece for cello alone.

On the whole, the program was riveting, but I lost interest partway through Kodaly's Duo. Though Haimovitz's and Simionescu's impressive technique never waned, the 25-minute piece felt about 15 minutes too long.

Haimovitz saved the best for last, bringing out three cellists from Montreal's McGill University, who sank their bows into a beautiful arrangement of Bartok's Romanian Dances with zest and zeal.

No club date would be complete without a bit of rock-and-roll, and Haimovitz obliged with a resounding arrangement of "Kashmir," the 1970s Led Zeppelin tune.

-- Gail Wein

Washington Bach Consort

The Washington Bach Consort took a welcome departure from its baroque fare Sunday afternoon, presenting a varied Christmas concert spanning five centuries at the National Presbyterian Church in Northwest Washington.

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