Alexey Stadler (cello), Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana, Vladimir Ashkenazy (conductor)
Cadogan Hall, 18 December 2015
In the first half of their London stop-off, the Orchestra della Svizzera Italiana asked some elegantly phrased questions about the attitudes to Classicism taken by two Russian composers, 40 years apart. Is it affection or parody that lies behind Prokofiev’s take on the Classical symphony in his first foray into the genre? Were the variations spun by Tchaikovsky from his invented ‘rococo’ theme so personal that an 18th-century world receded to become no more than a ghost in the ballroom?
At 24 years old, Alexey Stadler is a remarkably self-assured perfomer. Even in the thumb positions where the soloist sits for most of the Rococo Variations he retained an impressive nonchalance – and impeccable intonation – which sits well with their lightly worn aping of Classical manners. His choice of the traditional Fitzenhagen edition seemed a missed opportunity given that he also plays Tchaikovsky’s original which, as he remarked to Amati, has a more satisfying structure. He used a natural, unforced portamento in the lovely aria which the composer intended to form the climax of the sequence but Fitzenhagen shuffled earlier in the pack, but his phrasing elsewhere summoned the spirit of the 18th century, neat and playfully shaded. Stadler also showed both the willingness and ability – rare in young soloists – to play second fiddle at times and listen to his orchestra, with a glowing pianissimo that could still project to the back of the hall.
The symphonies either side of the Tchaikovsky left more to be desired. The Prokofiev was rhythmically heavy, rather scrappily played with some susceptible wind tuning and reflecting little of the energy which the apparently ageless Ashkenazy brings to his conducting. Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony was better balanced, but Ashkenazy played safe in the outer movements with conservative tempi, perhaps bearing in mind that the orchestra does not operate at the same level as the radio orchestras in Berlin and Tokyo where he has previously held tenure. They sounded most at home when drawing Mendelssohn’s pictures in sound with soft-edged, pastel-tinted lines, in the liturgical procession of the slow movement and in the ‘Hebrides’ Overture seascape which followed as an encore.