Wednesday, 25 March 2009

ALEXANDER IVASHKIN Cello Recital / Review

(Photo by Low Shao Suan)

with LOW SHAO YING, Piano
Conservatory Orchestra Hall
Monday (23 March 2009)

An edited version of this review was published in The Straits Times on 25 March 2009.

The reputation of Russian cellist Alexander Ivashkin lies largely with his committed advocacy of 20th century Russian music, and the small audience of about a hundred that attended his little-publicised recital at one of the Conservatory’s smaller spaces was not disappointed.

Presumably they came to hear his pronouncements on modern Russian icons Shostakovich and Prokofiev, which indubitably had the mark of authenticity. The former’s Sonata in D minor (Op.40), although one of his more approachable efforts, dripped with irony and delighted in abrupt shifts in moods and dynamics. The scherzo’s moto perpetuo spun like a madhouse carousel while the finale’s seemingly jocular dance reeked with faked smiles and forced laughter.

It was however within the deep recesses of the third movement’s Largo that yielded the music’s inner soul, an unspeakable sorrow that only a true-blooded Russian (and one born in the Soviet era) could ever contemplate. Ivashkin’s sonorous lament on his 1710 Guarnerius – abetted by a wide vibrato the length of Red Square - heaved a long and embittered sigh.

The five short movements from Prokofiev’s Suite from Chout (The Tale of The Buffoon) were entertaining with their grotesque caricatures of absurdist characters from the 1921 Diaghilev-commissioned ballet. Through these, Singaporean pianist Low Shao Ying played Ivashkin’s highly sympathetic and sensitive partner.

The recital began with J.S.Bach’s G Major Sonata (BWV.1027), which was hindered by less than ideal balance. The piano’s sound all but drowned out the cello’s intimate textures. A harpsichord would have been infinitely preferable here, and from the purist’s point of view, the cello should have made way for the viola da gamba, the original instrument to which these sonatas were conceived.

Speaking of early instruments, the cello has completely replaced the Arpeggione (or bowed guitar) of Schubert’s eponymous Sonata in A major (D.821). Here Ivashkin displayed a lovely singing tone throughout (Schubert was after all the ultimate song composer) while adroitly dallying on its dainty details.

The obligatory encore was a kitschy but delectable tango (Tango Natasha) by Sir Charles Chaplin, that little tramp with the moustache. Whoever said Russians did not have a sense of humour?

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