Outstanding musicians Alexander Ivashkin, cello, and Michael Houstoun, piano, open the Sunday Concerts 2009.
Once a regular performer in this series, Alexander Ivashkin makes a welcome return after more than ten years. As a soloist he has performed with many leading conductors and in all of the major concert venues in Europe. Resident in New Zealand during the 1990s, he established, and is Artistic Director of, the Adam International Cello Competition and Festival.
Michael Houstoun’s contribution to music life in this country stretches well beyond his regular performances with orchestras, as a recitalist and as a chamber music partner and was recognised most recently in 2007 when he was made a laureate of the Arts Foundation of New Zealand.
Sunday 05 April 2009 - Ilott Theatre, Wellington Town Hall
Season 2009, Sunday 05 April - Alexander Ivashkin and Michael Houstoun
Alexander Ivashkin and Michael Houstoun, Sunday 5 April 2009: Alexander Ivashkin, former lecturer in cello at the University of Canterbury, made a welcome return to act as artistic administrator of the competition he founded (the Adam International Cello Festival and Competition), and to give recitals with top New Zealand pianist Michael Houstoun. This first in the Wellington Chamber Music’s 2009 Sunday Concerts series seemed to me disappointingly conservative in its programming: nothing from the more adventurous Russian repertoire such as Schnittke, Gubaidulina, Denisov or Ustvolskaya, or even the NZ composers (like Jack Body and Chris Cree Brown) that Ivashkin championed when he lived here.
The afternoon offered other rewards however. It began with a graceful rendition of J.S Bach’s Sonata in G, BWV 1027. Sensitive to the original instrumentation of (fretted) bass viol, and harpsichord, Ivashkin used almost no vibrato, while Houstoun’s gently staccato piano was reinforced by some judicious sustain in the slow Andante.
The Cello Sonata in D minor Op 40 by Shostakovich allowed more scope for Ivashkin’s vibrato – but here again, used intelligently and selectively (and virtually absent in the ghostly coda of the first movement). This work – written before the composer had fallen foul of Stalin – gave the performers plenty of latitude to bring out a wide range of emotions, from the passionate romanticism of the opening Allegro ma non troppo, an almost Schubertian lyricism in the following Allegro and the pensive melancholy of the Largo, to a childlike simplicity and unforced rejoicing (reminiscent of Mozart’s last Lieder) in the final Allegro.
Schubert’s ‘Arpeggione’ Sonata must have been designed for a more leisurely time. Despite Houstoun’s thoughtful piano introduction, some singing cello legato in the Adagio and an elegant episode in the rondo finale, I did not find this music reaching out to touch me.
The five short movements from the ballet ‘Shoot’ (or ‘Chout’) by Prokoviev, though, may have been more suited to my attention-span. An unexpected highlight of the concert, these arrangements by Roman Sapojnikov proved whimsical character studies, expertly brought to life by the performers.
The recital ended with two generous encores, one of them a virtuoso figuration etude by Rostropovich (think a ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ for the cello).
Alan Wells, Sunday 05 April