REDEFINING THE HARP
SASHA BOLDACHEV, Harp
with GABRIEL LEE, Violin
Blue Room, The Arts House
13 April 2018)
On an evening when majority of the
concert-going public was attending Singapore Symphony
Orchestra's West Side Story concert at Esplanade, a small but
appreciative audience filled the Blue Room of The Arts House to witness the Singapore debut of young Russian harpist Sasha (Alexander) Boldachev.
This concert was the final leg of his Asian concert tour, and was organised by
the newly formed Cluny Creative Projects founded by local harpist Laura Peh. Singapore
The Zurich-based Boldachev performed a programme almost wholly of his own transcriptions, alternating between works of Russian and non-Russian composers. The concert began with J.S.Bach's well-known Toccata in D minor (BWV.565), which provided an arresting opening but without the fugue, the counterpoint of which would have made very interesting listening. This was followed by Mikhail Glinka's The Lark, a typically Russian romance tinged with longing and melancholy. Apparent from the first note, he is a virtuoso and arranger of the highest order, whose playing is totally musical and comes across as seemingly effortless.
The next set of pieces by Chopin and Prokofiev are better known in their piano versions, but the harp sounded totally idiomatic, especially in the former's Etude in A flat major (Op.25 No.1), also known as the “Aeolian Harp”. This reverse transcription (for harp of a piano piece trying its best to sound like a harp) was a marvellous example, as was the familiar posthumous Nocturne in C sharp minor, which was heard in its less-played alternative version.
Chopin's Fantaisie-Impromptu here sounded equally brilliant and scintillating as the original piano version, and when Boldachev added a few of his own virtuosic flourishes, it also lent a personal touch. The martial strides of Montagues & Capulets from Prokofiev's Romeo & Juliet made for some startling contrasts. It was a surprise that he did not include the Russian's Prelude in C (Op.12 No.7), but that would have been an original harp piece, from Prokofiev's own hand.
Debussy's Clair de lune, with its gentle chords and runs of arpeggios, was also a natural, and here it was coupled with Tchaikovsky's Waltz of the Flowers from The Nutcracker. Its introduction includes a harp flourish, one which orchestral harpists the world over relish when their chance arises. The waltz was slightly abridged but its sweeping effect was no less effective.
After a short intermission, Boldachev was joined by Singaporean violinist Gabriel Lee, thus playing sympathetic accompanist in two repertoire violin pieces. Everyone loves Massenet's Meditation from Thaïs, where the heart-strings are pulled to a soaring climax, and the lyrical Melodie from Tchaikovsky's Souvenir d'un lieu cher (Memory of a Beloved Place). Sounding just as musical, Lee was happy to lap up all the lovely melodies and bask under the spotlight.
Boldachev was again on his own in Czech composer Hans Trnecek's transcription of Bedrich Smetana's Die Moldau (Vltava) from Ma Vlast. The evocation of gentle trickling at the mighty river's source was very beautifully handled before arriving the work's big tune which was gratefully reciprocated. The central folkdance section was not included in this edited arrangement but the melody's grand and joyous reprise provided a suitably virtuosic finish.
Gabriel Lee returned to complete the concert with two well known Astor Piazzolla tangos, Café 1930 from L’histoire du Tango (The History of Tango), which had a more sultry and introspective mien, contrasted with the infectious rocking rhythm of Libertango. There was a collective letting down of hair and elements of improvisation in this life-affirming music, and the combined showmanship in these popular pieces drew a sustained and prolonged applause.
Boldachev obliged with a very substantial encore, his own Fantasy on Themes from Stravinsky's Petrushka. Piano fanciers familiar with Stravinsky's Three Movements from Petrushka will recognise all the tunes here, from The Shrovetide Fair, Russian Dance, Chez Petrushka to the final carnival of dances and a flashy finish. A single word to sum up Boldachev's endeavours this evening: spectacular.