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Matt Haimovitz: my cello top five

Cellist Matt Haimovitz shares a personal playlist – and personal recollections – running from classic recordings by Casals and Du Pré to his own recordings of music by Beethoven and Insang Yun.Read more…

Bach: Cello Suite No. 3 in C major – Casals

I'd just started to play the cello and my parents gave me the album of Casals playing Bach. About two years later I was studying with Gábor Rejtő, who had studied with Casals, and for him it was really important that Bach – solo Bach – was part of the daily diet, to develop a foundation of counterpoint and harmony, phrasing, breathing, technique and sound production. Casals played in a very personal way. There were elements of his rubato that were almost 'Spanish': the way that he would hold onto notes, the rhythmic vitality of it. There's something so human, so vital about these recordings – and there's just something very moving to me about going back to them.

Elgar: Cello Concerto – Du Pré, London Symphony Orchestra, Barbirolli

This is another early LP that I got. I just remember being blown away by how raw it was, how there was no barrier between Jacqueline Du Pre's heart and what she was expressing and communicating. I wanted to keep that sense of instinct with whatever I did. Then, when we had moved to New York, and I was 13, I got a call from Itzhak Perlman, who said Daniel Barenboim was over at his house, and did I want to come over and play some chamber music? Daniel was very taken with my playing and he invited me to come and make my European debut with the English Chamber Orchestra. He invited Jackie to come to hear it, which led to her inviting me to spend time with her and play for her. She was already very sick with MS, and I became very close with her. She was quite bitter about her disease, but one of the things she loved to do was actually listen to her old recordings. The Elgar recording was already one of my favourites, but we listened to it together and just relived her love for the instrument and the music. It gave her tremendous pleasure to hear it.

Yun: Cello Concerto – Haimovitz, Bruckner Orchester Linz, Davies

The Elgar concerto everyone knows; the Yun very few people know. And I think there's maybe only a handful of cellists who've even performed it. First of all, Insang Yun has a pretty harrowing, dramatic life story. He was immersed in Western art music in Germany and had moved from Korea to Berlin. But he took a stance on wanting to unite the two Koreas and ended up being sentenced to death and tortured in South Korea. He was imprisoned from 1967–9 and in 1970 he wrote his solo cello piece 'Glissées', which was essentially a study for a few years later when he wrote the cello concerto. I didn't know the story or his music until two years ago, when Dennis Russell Davies asked if I knew Insang Yun and the Cello Concerto. I went and sought it out and was blown away by the writing – I had never heard anything like it. The cellist goes completely crazy at the start of this concerto. It's chaotic and it's near impossible, and you just don't think it's playable. I found that really gripping; it was a whole new language to get to know. I'd played a whole lot of contemporary music before, but this was different.

Schubert: "Arpeggione" Sonata – Rostropovich, Britten

I just love this recording. It's really rare – and this is maybe a little geeky – to get a great sound balance between cello and piano. It's one of the most difficult things to capture in a recording studio, and for me this is one of the finest examples of a cello-piano recording. I just love how you have these two very different personalities coming together over this piece – huge personalities, larger than life. But the way they approach the Schubert, they just let it unfold - they don't impose their personalities on it.

Beethoven: Cello Sonata Op 102 No 2 – Haimovitz, O'Reily

I talked about the recording balance between cello and piano in the Schubert, and how these two instruments are so disparate and difficult to capture together. But with the Beethoven sonatas Chris and I decided to do it with period instruments. It was a complete revelation for us: suddenly the balance between these two instruments makes so much more sense. All of a sudden, the writing in the piano doesn't overpower the cello, and in fact the cello has to make room for the piano sometimes.

Bonus Choice: Reger: Cello Suite No. 1 – Feuermann

As I was growing up, Feuermann was one of my very favourite recording artists to listen to. He basically played the cello like the violin. He transcended the technique of his time, and it was always something to emulate and try to reach for. This isn't one of his famous recordings, and I believe the story was that he was moving onto a new label but had to fulfil a contract on his old label. He didn't want to give them anything that could sell, so he was like, "Ok, I'll give you the Reger Suite which nobody wants!" But in fact that recording is just stunning.

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