Anastasia Kobekina, Daniel Bard / Kammerorchester Basel
Haydn / Elgar
Kirche St.Peter, Zurich, 2022-08-17
2022-08-25 — Original posting
Faszinierendes Benefiz-Konzert zugunsten der Arbeit von Médecins sans Frontières in der Ukraine — Zusammenfassung
Im Frühjahr wurde der russischen Cellistin Anastasia Kobekina wegen Putins Angriffskrieg gegen die Ukraine ein Auftritt in der Kartause Ittingen verweigert—allein aufgrund ihrer Nationalität, und trotz ihrer entschiedenen Verurteilung der Invasion. Der daraus resultierende Aufschrei in den Medien ermöglichte letztlich der Musikerin, zwei Benefiz-Konzerte zugunsten der Ukraine durchzuführen. Über das erste dieser Konzerte (Boswil, 2022-03-26) wurde an dieser Stelle bereits berichtet.
Die zweite Benefiz-Veranstaltung, zugunsten von Médecins sans Frontières, fand am 18. August in der Kirche St.Peter in Zürich statt. Der Anlass wurde von der Stradivari-Stiftung Habisreutinger (in Zusammenarbeit mit dem Kammerorchester Basel und der Hochuli Konzert AG) organisiert, welche der Cellistin auch eines ihrer wertvollen Instrumente zur Verfügung stellt.
Mit von der Partie war das Kammerorchester Basel unter der Leitung seines Konzertmeisters, Daniel Bard. Das Orchester eröffnete das Programm mit der Sinfonie Nr.44 in e-moll (“Trauer-Sinfonie”) von Franz Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809). Das zum Anlass passende Attribut der Sinfonie bezieht sich primär auf den ergreifenden langsamen Satz, sowie vermutlich auch auf den gedämpften Anfang des ersten Satzes. Im Zentrum des Abends stand sodann das frühe Cellokonzert Nr.1 in C-dur des gleichen Komponisten, von Anastasia Kobekina mit Natürlichkeit und begeisternder Musikalität dargeboten.
Der Zweck der Veranstaltung rückte mit dem abschließenden Adagio aus dem Cellokonzert in e-moll, op.85 von Sir Edward Elgar (1857 – 1934) wieder in den Fokus: ein berührender Abgesang voller Trauer und Melancholie, welcher dennoch auch Trost und Zuversicht vermittelte. Die Cellistin wandte sich nach dem Applaus an das Publikum. Sie bedankte sich bei den Veranstaltern und dem Publikum für die Ermöglichung dieses Auftritts, in der Hoffnung auf Heilung von den brutalen Konsequenzen der Invasion. Ihre Zugabe: das ukrainische Volkslied “Auf dem schönen Dnjepr“, und daran nahtlos anschließend die Sarabande aus der Cello-Suite Nr.2 in d-moll, BWV 1008 von Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750).
Table of Contents
- Concert & Review
- Haydn: Symphony No.44 in E minor, Hob.I:44, “Trauer-Sinfonie” (Mourning)
- Haydn: Cello Concerto No.1 in C major, Hob.VIIb:1
- Elgar: Cello Concerto in E minor, op.85
- Encore — Bach: Suite No.2 in D minor for Cello Solo, BWV 1008 (IV. Sarabande)
|Venue, Date & Time||Kirche St.Peter in Zurich, 2022-08-17 19:30h|
|Series / Title||Charity Concert in Favor of Médecins sans Frontières for their Support Work in Ukraine|
|Organizer||Stradivari Foundation Habisreutinger|
Hochuli Konzert AG
|Reviews from related events||Anastasia Kobekina in Concerts and Recitals|
The Kammerorchester Basel in Concerts
Concerts organized by Hochuli Konzert AG
Concerts at Kirche St.Peter, Zurich
I don’t need to introduce the Russian cellist Anastasia Kobekina (Анастасия Кобекина, born 1994 in Yekaterinburg, see also Wikipedia). I have written about her in reviews of several of her concerts / recitals, see the link above. Anastasia Kobekina performs on the 1698 cello “De Kermadec-Bläss“ by Antonio Stradivari (1644 – 1737), on loan from the Habisreutinger Stradivari Foundation.
The orchestra was the Kammerorchester Basel (Basel Chamber Orchestra, founded 1984, see also Wikipedia). The ensemble was led by the Israeli-Canadian violinist and concertmaster Daniel Bard, from the first desk. This is my sixth encounter with the ensemble (for earlier concert reviews see the link above), and among these, the second one where the ensemble was led by its concertmaster, Daniel Bard.
Concerts Under the Impression of the Russian Invasion into Ukraine
Russia’s (or rather: Putin’s) brutal aggression war against Ukraine is in everybody’s mind. After all, it not only affects the people in Ukraine, but also the global economy, and hence everybody, not just in Europe. And after the dreaded consequences of the pandemic, this war has incisive consequences in the world of culture, of arts, in particular music.
Naturally, artists who actively or implicitly support Russia’s invasion (especially those with firm ties to Putin and his entourage) are now boycotted in vast parts of the Western world. There are very few people here who have objections against such measures. However, the reactions in the West also include questionable actions, such as a boycott of music by Russian composers—undeniably an integral part of Western, in particular Eurasian culture.
Moreover, there were instances where Russian artists were excluded from giving concerts, even if they openly condemn Russia’s invasion, and even if they have been living in Western Europe for many years. One such instance (the cancellation of a duo recital in Switzerland because of the artist’s nationality) also affected the soloist in this concert, Anastasia Kobekina. This caused considerable stir-up, not just in Switzerland, but in international media. I don’t want to repeat my extensive description of the incident from the review of the concert in Boswil on 2022-03-26 (organized as a charity event, in reaction to the cancellation).
Compensation and Charity
Anastasia Kobekina’s duo recital in March, which I referred to above, was not canceled by the organizer (Hochuli Konzert AG), but by the venue. Already back then Mr. Hochuli promised that he would organize an event in compensation for that mishap.
This happened now, in this Charity concert, which Hochuli Konzert AG arranged, jointly with the Stradivari Foundation Habisreutinger, also the owner of the wonderful instrument that Anastasia Kobekina is currently playing on. The entry to this event was free: all donations went to Médecins sans Frontières, for their support work in Ukraine. Not surprisingly, the nave of the Kirche St.Peter was full, there were even people listening from the rear and lateral balconies.
Before the orchestra entered the stage from the choir, Andreas Müller-Crepon, presenter at Switzerland’s Radio SRF 2 Kultur, offered an introduction.
He started with explanations about the language differences between Ukrainian and Russian. Interestingly, half a year after the beginning of the Russian invasion (and 8 years after the invasion of Crimea), most people here (including myself) probably still think that these differences are mere dialects of one and the same language. It therefore wasn’t just interesting, but actually important to learn that the two languages are related, but feature substantial differences. Müller-Crepon compared this to the relation between the German and Dutch languages. He briefly described the situation in Ukraine, and the giant task which Médecins sans Frontières are facing, and why a broad scope of support is urgently needed.
It was a valuable reminder not just (and primarily) about the situation of the people in Ukraine, but also about what the war means to musicians, including the vast majority of Russian artists.
Andreas Müller-Crepon also summarized the events that led to the organization of this concert. That certainly was an excellent idea, as not everybody in the audience was aware of Anastasia Kobekina’s concert cancellation in March.
- Mourning and compassion for the victims of the senseless, brutal aggression against Ukraine: Haydn’s “Mourning Symphony”.
- For the charity event to be successful in its purpose of collecting donations, it needed a central “attraction”, to help gathering a big audience. Many would regard a virtuosic showpiece as being ideal for that purpose. Haydn’s C major concerto certainly serves that criterion—although Anastasia Kobekina did not present it as such, see below.
- Reflection, sadness about the current humanitarian, political, and economic situation—globally, not just in this part of the world. Elgar’s slow movement turned out the ideal vehicle for conveying these emotions.
As mentioned above, the charity event was “sold out”, filling the nave of Kirche St.Peter in Zurich. I once more enjoyed the enormous pleasure of a privileged seat on the organ balcony, next to the organ’s Rückpositiv, with excellent view onto orchestra and soloist.
Concert & Review
Haydn: Symphony No.44 in E minor, Hob.I:44, “Trauer-Sinfonie” (Mourning)
Composer & Work
Franz Joseph Haydn (1732 – 1809) started composing symphonies around 1757, at age 22. By the year 1795, he completed at least 107 symphonies. The Symphony No.44 in E minor, Hob.I:44, has the by-name “Trauer-Sinfonie“ (Mourning Symphony). It is a work from 1772. The by-name refers to the character of the slow movement. Note that in the vast majority of the cases, by-names for symphonies were added by the publisher—rarely ever by the composer himself. The four movements are as follows:
- Allegro con brio (4/4)
- Menuetto: Allegretto (Canone in Diapason) — Trio (3/4)
- Adagio (2/4)
- Finale: Presto (2/2
As for the second movement: the term diapason simply means “octave”, i.e., a canon where the voices (e.g., violins vs. cellos) follow each other at a distance (interval) of an octave. Apart from that, Diapason is also used to describe certain types of flue registers on a pipe organ.
The Kammerorchester Basel performed in a well-balanced configuration with 5 + 4 violins (antiphonal arrangement, on either side of the podium), 3 violas (behind the second violins), 2 cellos (one of them baroque), and a violone (5 strings). For the symphony there were two natural (“hand”) horns (as far as I could see, one cor solo and one cor d’orchestre), and two oboes. The string players performed with a mix of classical and modern (Tourte-type) bows. As the pictures show, all musicians (with the two obvious exceptions) were performing standing—the standard with this ensemble.
I. Allegro con brio
In the interpretation by the Kammerorchester Basel, the beginning of Haydn’s Symphony No.44 felt introverted, earnest, covered. The opening motif wasn’t a big gesture, the marcato notes were neither harsh nor particularly loud. Consequently, the contrast to the subsequent p motifs was not drastic. Rather, the orchestra shaped the first theme with harmonious, gentle dynamics. I instantly liked the warm sonority, the natural, mellow articulation: characteristics and size of the orchestra were ideal for the venue and its acoustics. The matte character not only matched the surname of the symphony, but equally reflected the context that led to the event.
The second theme, f / ff, with its virtuosic semiquaver lines brought a change to a lively, playful atmosphere. It was a joy to watch the vibrant action in the orchestra, certainly also a consequence of the musicians performing standing. With the limited size of the ensemble, there was no need for a conductor, but with the active help of the two musicians at the first desk of the second violins, Daniel Bard never appeared to face problems with the coordination. Even in the fast, rolling semiquavers, the articulation remained natural—not aiming for polished perfection, nor virtuosic show.
I noted the careful, diligent and differentiated dynamics, and the excellent balance within the orchestra. The strength of the strings was ideal for the wind voices. In particular, the mellow, warm sound of the natural horns effortlessly retained its presence, was a voice by itself, not just adding color. Yet, color, they had—plenty, and more than modern valve horns (which also would have required a bigger orchestra).
II. Menuetto: Allegretto (Canone in Diapason) — Trio
Some (traditional) interpretations perform this Menuetto as a heavy, if not clumsy “dance”. More often, it is a comfy, static, perhaps somewhat formal dance (the canon appears to lead to a rather formal interpretation). Not so here: the Kammerorchester Basel is not the orchestra for comfy, laid back interpretations—be it only because the musicians performed standing! Yes, the tempo still felt natural, somewhat peaceful. However, at the same time, the pace was a tad faster than some might expect, adding a very slight “scent of Scherzo“, just outside of the “comfy, resting” regime.
One may see this as “a little (too) fast”—I didn’t. After all, Haydn wouldn’t be Haydn, if he didn’t often add some—ever so subtle—irony and humor. Often enough, he went much farther, into jokes and outright provocation! I really liked this interpretation. My only (minor) quibble is with the momentary sensation of unrest towards the end of the Menuetto, as well as the Trio. On the other hand, there was again that smooth, warm and mellow sonority of the natural horns (horn #1 only in the Trio): beautiful!
A movement in sonata form that initially pretends to be a set of variations. The violins are playing with mutes. For the most part, the strings play alone. All the more, in the segments where the oboes took over the melody (supported by a horn voice), one enjoyed their clarity, and the beauty of the cantilena. Intimate, cosy music of ravishing serenity, peaceful, calm, with gentle, swaying agogics: marvelous, lovely—and touching!
Wikipedia mentions the apocryphal claim that Haydn wanted this movement to be played at his funeral. Even it that’s not true, it is indicative of the qualities of this composition.
IV. Finale: Presto
At a first, superficial glance, the Finale looks like a simple movement, 4 crotchets per bar—however it is Alla breve (split time, ₵) and Presto. And indeed, the Kammerorchester Basel opened with a sporty tempo—a pace which just allowed retaining clarity of the quaver figures in the church acoustics—and in the articulation. I did not have the impression of a pushed / stressed pace, or of extroverted virtuosity. The performance felt playful, yet enthralling, stirring, even ferocious in the sforzandi (bars 52ff and 144ff).
True, the coordination wasn’t always perfect. However, with the reverberation and the musicians performing standing, absolute clarity and perfection in such fast movements is almost impossible to achieve. One might say: no risk, no fun—and fun it was: enough for the orchestra to repeat both parts!
Haydn: Cello Concerto No.1 in C major, Hob.VIIb:1
Composer & Work
- Moderato (4/4)
- Adagio (2/4)
- Finale: Allegro molto (2/2)
In the seven years since I’m reviewing concerts, I have encountered this composition in three live performances. See my reviews for these concerts for additional information. Back in 2013, I have also written a short comparison post on recordings of Haydn’s cello concertos. An additional recording from 2019 is mentioned in one of the concert reviews.
Naturally, with Anastasia Kobekina stepping onto the podium, the attention shifted towards the soloist and her instrument. I first heard her in my hometown on 2018-05-17, and since then, every single encounter with her has been joy and pure delight. So, my expectations for this concert were very high, to say the least!
The orchestra opened in a fluid tempo—not pushed, but natural, retaining lightness and elasticity. Lively, careful and detailed in dynamics and articulation—joyful and festive. With her harmonious, well-rounded arpeggio chord, Anastasia Kobekina let her part seamlessly emerge out of the orchestral introduction.
How to describe the soloist’s performance? I noted the distinctly swaying agogics in the main theme, and how in her hands, the phrases were harmoniously building up to a intensely singing climax. But let my try not to dissect her playing down to motifs and phrases. Here’s what I find in the notes that I took during the concert: “So light, natural, joyful, playful, cantabile, effortless, yet determined”. She struck me as a musician who did not try to push ahead (or drive the orchestra), to impress with power and virtuosity: her open, friendly and natural personality alone seemed more than enough to leave a lasting impression. It’s enviable how she can just be herself—and the music that she is playing! To me, it seemed hard not to be impressed by her performance.
Then, of course, the “De Kermadec-Bläss“ Stradivari cello: an exceptionally well-balanced instrument! Warm and full in the tone down to the C string, never bulky or too dark, and also in the intensely singing upper range, the instrument showed no weaknesses or rough edges at all, effortlessly retained its acoustic presence amidst the orchestra. Sure, the acoustics of the venue and the moderate size of the orchestra have helped, but still…
Naturally, I was curious about the solist’s choice of cadenza. I must say, I did not recognize it. Therefore, I assumed it was the artist’s own—and found it an excellent fit to the interpretation of that movement: melodious, playful not trumping up with outgoing virtuosity (such as excessive double-stop playing), not too long, not too short—just “right” at this point in time.
I later contacted the artist, to double-check, in case it was somebody else’s cadenza. And indeed, Anastasia Kobekina told me that she wasn’t quite happy with her own version, so she decided to adopt (major parts of) the cadenza that Steven Isserlis (*1958) used in his 1996 recording, see my separate CD review. For more recent performances he created new cadenzas. The fact that she was using a “third party cadenza” does not diminish Anastasia Kobekina’s artistic achievement. Actually: in her hands, the cadenza reflected her own personality and sounded quite different from the creator’s own (1996) performance.
Also this movement starts with an orchestral introduction, which the Kammerorchester Basel performed with subtle, highly differentiated, “speaking” dynamics, initially almost sotto voce. The entry of the solo here was even more subtle and seamless than in the first movement—the opening c‘ seemed to emerge out of nothing.
But once the cello marked its presence, it became the central voice. Not with pure sound esthetics, of course. Rather, each of the solo segments turned into an eloquent recitative, telling stories: intimacy and expression, serenity, joy, infinite pleasure—and slight melancholy, as well as earnest, urging moments. A patient, calm and long breath, building up intensity, then relaxing again—mellow, gentle, subtle—pure delight, indeed!
The cadenza was again Steven Isserlis’ (1996, see above)—momentarily a little more extravagant in the harmonies, growing out of—and seamlessly back into Haydn’s music. At this point, I should also mention that I thoroughly enjoyed Anastasia Kobekina’s subtle, largely inconspicuous vibrato—harmonious, never ever nervous, never affecting the intonation, often hardly noticeable—and nothing was amiss!
III. Finale: Allegro molto
A sporty, virtuosic pace, again exploring the limits of clarity and coordination in the church acoustics! Yet, the orchestra managed to make the introduction feel playful, not too driven / pushed. With the solo, it became clear that the tempo was Anastasia Kobekina’s: she really seemed to feel at ease, her part sounded light, effortless—and never stressed / pushed. And as her part filled up with highly virtuosic semiquavers, see was able to draw from her astounding technical reserves, retaining lightness, playfulness and dynamic differentiation: amazing, and infinite pleasure and joy to watch and listen to—my sincere congratulations!
Elgar: Cello Concerto in E minor, op.85
Composer & Work
- Adagio — Moderato
- Lento — Allegro molto
- Allegro — Moderato — Allegro, ma non troppo — Poco più lento — Lento — Adagio — Allegro molto
The concerto as such is for a much bigger setting than what was available in this concert. Moreover, Anastasia Kobekina decided not to perform the entire concerto, but only the third movement (Adagio). The wind instruments (two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns) play a very minor role in this movement—and indeed, nothing seemed to be missing in the arrangement for cello and strings. The Adagio proved to be the ideal choice for this occasion!
Needless to say: the frenetic applause after the Haydn concerto was well-deserved! A moment of reflection and introspection (not just for the purpose of re-tuning) was definitely a good idea, before Elgar’s Adagio could take the audience back to the actual purpose of the concert. And it did so, thoroughly!
Such introverted, emotionally intense music, full of burning memories and melancholy. The last, intense and warm sun rays of a day? Or rather the last, retrospective moments of a rich life? A unique piece with infinite sadness, a farewell of otherworldly beauty: is there any music that touches to tears more than this Adagio?
One could sense how much the audience was touched by Anastasia Kobekina’s playing. Prior to sitting down again for the encore, the soloist took the microphone and addressed the audience in German. She thanked the organizers of the event, and expressed her deep regret about the circumstances that led to this concert, as well as gratitude for being able to share this hour together with the audience, in the hope to be able to help mending the consequences of the brutal war.
Anastasia Kobekina announced the encore(s) as a Ukrainian folk song “Auf dem schönen Dnjepr“, i.e., “On the beautiful Dnepr (Dnipro)”, followed by a Sarabande by Bach.
Encore — Bach: Suite No.2 in D minor for Cello Solo, BWV 1008 (IV. Sarabande)
Composer & Work
The Sarabande turned out to be the fourth movement from the Suite No.2 for Cello Solo in D minor, BWV 1008 by Johann Sebastian Bach (1685 – 1750). Interestingly, this was just the second time that I encountered this movement in concert—and that was again with Anastasia Kobekina, when she performed all six of Bach’s Cello Suites in three successive recitals, on 2021-04-25, in the very same venue.
The Ukrainian folk song: a simple, but beautiful melody full of bitter-sweet melancholy, initially just one voice, subsequently complemented with scarce harmonies. Really touching!
The melody ended in d—and so, the seamless continuation with Bach’s Sarabande on the same note felt absolutely natural. It’s hard to talk about the experience with the Sarabande. Maybe it is sufficient to state this: the circumstances, the preceding concert, in particular the Elgar movement, and maybe even more so the immediate, “intimate” linkage with the Ukrainian folk song transported the Sarabande out of the context of Bach’s somewhat austere D minor Suite, gave it a wholly new purpose. Here, it felt like a thoughtful memento mori, as well as an earnest reminder of the endless suffering, the dreadful state of the world around us and beyond. I could not think of a better, more intense way to end this event!
A most impressive charity concert, indeed! Needless to say that Anastasia Kobekina did not disappoint my very high expectations: 4.5 years ago, when I heard her for the first time (in the province, where I live), I hadn’t even heard her name. This concert now was a stellar experience—and just a few days later, Anastasia went on to perform the Dvořák’s Cello Concerto in B minor, op.104 in the big hall of the Elbphilharmonie in Hamburg: not even the pandemic could stop her career. Being able to witness her performance was a true privilege!
The author would like to express his gratitude to the organizer, Hochuli Konzert AG, for the press tickets to this concert.