New Classical Tracks: Matthew Lipman soars with premieres of viola fantasies
Matthew Lipman/Henry Kramer Ascent (Cedille)
One year before receiving an Avery Fisher Career Grant, violist Matthew Lipman was invited to make a recording with violinist Rachel Barton Pine, the Academy of St. Martin in the Fields and conductor Neville Marriner.
"I remember telling my professor at the time that this opportunity had arisen, and her husband at the time said, 'Well, it's only downhill from here.' And I mean, it's pretty funny that he said that, because I think at the time I was 21 or something, and that was crazy for me."
Lipman recently released his first solo recording, Ascent. Each piece is a flight of fancy. The centerpiece is work that he commissioned in memory of his mother. It's called Metamorfose, by Clarice Assad.
"It's in two parts and the first part is very clearly kind of a commentary on the grief process. It has motifs that are cycled throughout the piece, but in the first movement, they're very dark and inward. And then the second movement is really a celebration and an acceptance. Those motifs transform into positivity and have dancelike qualities.
"One of my favorite parts of the whole piece is its incredibly innovative ending; rather than ending with a loud or soft chord, the viola and piano kind of flutter away. It sounds exactly like butterfly wings."
The recording opens with Phantasy for Viola and Piano, by York Bowen. He was referred to as the English Rachmaninoff. Why is that?
"Well I think once you hear his music, it's very clear that he wears his heart on his sleeve. And this fantasy is my favorite of the pieces that he wrote for viola. He was a violist himself, and I think it's masterfully composed. Also, I think Henry Kramer, my collaborative partner in this whole project, especially in the Bowen brings such a special quality to a notoriously difficult piano part."
There's another world premiere on this recording, and it was a piece that was recently discovered: an impromptu by Shostakovich. How were you able to acquire the score to use in this recording?
"I think that a lot of luck was involved in getting the music for this, because the impromptu had been in a drawer in the household of a violist who was playing in the Glazunov String Quartet in Moscow many years ago.
"The luck came in because I actually had met Dr. Mila Kokonitskaya, who chaired the Shostakovich archive in St. Petersburg, when I was on tour in Russia the previous year. And the answer I got, the first time I contacted her, was, 'No, sorry, I can't send you the score it's not published.' I waited a few months and luckily I received her good graces. She said, 'You know, I love your playing, and we'd love to have you record it.'"
Ascent is a tribute to your late mother. Do you ever get the sense that maybe she's right there with you when you're playing these pieces?
"Yeah, absolutely. Just like Carol Burnett used to wiggle her ear to her mom every show, I think about my mom constantly when I'm performing. She was the one who drove me to all of my lessons. And when I started doing competitions in high school, she would take me all around the country. I know that she is listening from above."
To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.