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BRAHMS Sonata op.99; PROKOFIEV Sonata Op 119 Alexander Ivashkin (cello) Daniel Adni (piano) Blackheath Halls, 3 February 2002 (PGW)

I hope readers may follow the tortuously linked thoughts in this review and discover an instructive circularity? Seen&Heard evolved from a kernel in BBC Music Magazine, whose editor (writing in 1999 about declining press coverage of live music) concluded "only the Internet offers a ray of hope - - ".

The March 2002 issue of BBC Music Magazine carries an impassioned article by Brian Hunt deploring that orchestral concerts no longer offer the quality of experience they did and should to transcend home listening. He cites jetting conductors who skimp rehearsal, leaving balance and phrasing to chance. Assuming he may be a Londoner, perhaps it is just that he does not go to the Wigmore Hall regularly, or attend student, small group and chamber music events where special experiences are often to be had? But sub-standard chamber music recitals too are bound to be encountered by a diligent critic if aspiring musicians are not quite ready for critical exposure, and more seriously when established artists have off days, sometimes seeming to play on 'auto-pilot', perhaps related to stressful touring schedules.

These thoughts were sadly aroused whilst pondering a recent recital by the eminent cellist and academic, Alexander Ivashkin, who has been galvanising the musical life of the local Goldsmith's College, where he is now the University of London Professor of Music. Friend, dedicatee and biographer of Shostakovich, champion of Schnittke and Tcherepnin he has been celebrated in these pages for live appearances, and also for recordings which I treasure of those composers, one of them an outstanding disc which pays tribute to Prokofiev 's fascination with the cello. Daniel Adni's biography was impressive, as they always are in concert programmes. So expectations were high for their Sunday morning appearance at Blackheath, where morning concerts are now secure fixtures in London's weekend calendar, regularly attracting near capacity audiences.

Alas, all went wrong. Ivashkin seemed ill attuned with his pianist who, in turn, seemed unable to discover the potential of the Blackheath Bösendorfer. Had they skimped preparation for a small suburban booking, not the sort of event that would bring in the critics from The Dailies or Sundays?

The Brahms No 2 was an odd and perilous starter to choose; they tore into it vehemently, making no concessions to the acoustic of the intimate small hall. Matthew Taylor's notes describe it as 'a more relaxed, expansive work' than the composer's first cello sonata, yet with 'most demanding pianism'. The piano part is indeed very hard, and Adni seemed to be insecure, virtually sight reading it with no spare attention for finer shading. His tone was hard and percussive, phrasing almost non-existent. There was little beauty on offer; Ivashkin's tone was wiry and searing - no shortage of projection, but the whole lacked warmth or inwardness, as one remembered Tortelier stressing in his teaching. In the Prokofiev Ivashkin displayed a rich, dark quality in the sustained low cantabile beginning but climaxes became forceful to the point of ugliness. Again, little relaxation or quietening for the lyrical passages - instead an unremitting, misplaced intensity, with Adni as before prosaic and missing opportunities for affectionate phrasing.

Having another engagement in the afternoon, we denied ourselves Rossini and Shostakovich and refreshed our memory of the infrequently played Prokofiev sonata by listening to our five CDs with it, all of which showed qualities missing in the live performance at Blackheath. Of those, each had its merits and none was as rough as Ivashkin/Adni live. Rafael Wallfisch & John York's account on Black Box BBM1027 is well worth collecting, comprising a whole CD of Prokofiev cello music with piano plus the unaccompanied Sonata for Solo Cello Op 133. However, my vote goes without question to the most recently received for review, that by David Finckel (cellist of the Emerson Quartet) and his pianist wife Wu Han, bringing together the Prokofiev, Shostakovich and Rachmaninov cello sonatas (79'36" - all three accommodated by dispensing with exposition repeats) with illuminating notes by Gerard McBurney (ArtistLed 19901-2). All successful duos represent marriages in music, reflecting the desirable qualities of close rapport and sensitive consideration between partners; the Finckel & Han ensemble, as recorded on their several CDs, comes across as a perfect marriage of like-minded musicians, an intimacy, which we are privileged to share.

And here I come to close two circles to give food for thought. I first heard that outstanding duo in a BBC Music Magazine cover CD - those are not usually reviewed on MusicWeb. It had been recorded by them privately, and now this CD of Russian Classics (ArtistLed 19901-2) is the sixth release of Finckel & Han's own recording company, which they claim as the first musician-directed and internet-based recording company (Joanna MacGregor's Soundcircus is something somewhat similar?). Those superlatively performed, engineered and produced CDs are only available through their website It is an enterprise which visitors to Seen&Heard and MusicWeb should support.

Peter Grahame Woolf


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