Lev Sivkov, Alexander Boldachev
Vivaldi / Cassadó / Schubert

Alte Kantonsschule, Zurich, 2024-04-13

4.5-star rating

2024-04-17 — Original posting

Lev Sivkov und Alexander Boldachev: Matinee mit Cello und Harfe — Zusammenfassung

Cello und Harfe: ein Duo-Rezital der ungewöhnlichen Art! Zwei in Russland geborene und mittlerweile in der Schweiz lebende Musiker gestalteten gemeinsam eine Matinee in der kleinen Aula der Alten Kantonsschule Zürich.

Zu Beginn des rund einstündigen Rezitals präsentierte der 1990 in St.Petersburg geborene Harfenist Alexander Boldachev das Violinkonzert in f-moll, op.8/4, RV 297, “Der Winter” aus den “Vier Jahreszeiten” von Antonio Vivaldi (1678 – 1741), in einer eigenen, erstaunlichen und faszinierenden Bearbeitung für Harfe solo.

Anschließend spielte der in Novosibirsk aufgewachsene Cellist Lev Sivkov (*1990, heute Solocellist am Opernhaus Zürich) die Suite für Violoncello solo des Katalanen Gaspar Cassadó (1897 – 1966).

Im letzten und umfangreichsten Teil des Rezitals spielten die beiden Musiker als Duo die bekannte Arpeggione-Sonate in a-moll, D.821, von Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828), arrangiert (wiederum von Alexander Boldachev) für Harfe und Violoncello. Cello statt Arpeggione, und Harfe statt Klavier—das scheint weit vom Original entfernt. Allerdings existiert das Arpeggione nur noch in seltenen Nachbauten. Außerdem ist es ein äußerst unpraktisches und schwer zu spielendes Instrument. Meist hört man die Sonate jetzt mit Cello oder Viola. Der moderne Konzertflügel ist als Begleitinstrument auch nicht ideal, erdrückt er doch oftmals akustisch das Streichinstrument. Hier erwies sich die Harfe als ideale Begleitung: zurückhaltender im Klang, vielleicht sogar näher am Schubert’schen Klavier als ein moderner Flügel. So konnte sich Lev Sivkov ganz auf die poetischen, intimen Inhalte der Sonate konzentrieren, ohne sich um klangliche Ausgewogenheit sorgen zu müssen. Das Ergebnis: eine wahre Offenbarung!

Table of Contents


Venue, Date & TimeAula of the Alte Kantonsschule Zürich, 2024-04-13 11:30h
Series / TitleMusik an ETHZ und UZH — Season XXIX, Matinée 4
OrganizerMusical Discovery
Reviews from related eventsConcerts organized by Musical Discovery
Recitals at the Alte Kantonsschule Zürich
Concerts featuring the cellist Lev Sivkov

The Artists

Lev Sivkov, cello

This was my fourth encounter with the cellist Lev Sivkov (*1990) — for earlier reviews see the link above. The artist grew up in Novosibirsk. At the age of 19, he moved to Stuttgart, where he studied with Ivan Monighetti (*1948), Conradin Brotbek (*1960) and Jean-Guyhen Queyras (*1967). He followed the latter to Freiburg, where he continued his studies. In 2016 he was solo cellist at the Royal Danish Opera in Copenhagen, and since 2017, Lev Sivkov is solo cellist of the Philharmonia Zürich, the orchestra of the Zurich Opera House. He plays a cello by Vincenzo Postiglione II (Naples, 1831 – 1916) from around 1894.

Alexander Boldachev, harp

Alexander Boldachev (Александр Болдачёв, *1990, see also Wikipedia), is a harp virtuoso, teacher and arranger / composer. He was born in Saint Petersburg, Russia. In 1997, he began studying harp and composition at Saint Petersburg Conservatory. In 2005, Alexander Boldachev moved to Zurich, to continue his studies in harp and composition at the Zurich University of the Arts (ZHdK). His principal harp teachers in Zurich were Catherine Michel (*1948) and Sarah O’Brien. For further details see the artist’s biography.


Setting, etc.

The concert was well attended. I sat next to the center isle, in the rear part of the small-size, square-shaped hall, which has a capacity: 80 – 100 seats (see my earlier review for information on the venue). With the limited size of the hall, there are no “bad seats”. The main difference between seats is their variable view onto the performing artists.

Concert & Review


This concert review is not as detailed (and possibly “accurate”) as my usual ones. Let me explain: for one, I had just visited a concert two days earlier, so I had (and still have) a review backlog (review to appear soon). I wanted to attend this concert as well, but decided not to write a review. One reason for this decision was that the original concert announcement gave only vague information about the program (such as “interesting arrangements”, but not of what exactly). Primarily, this meant that I could not prepare myself for the program (download scores, possibly listen to recordings). Also, the vagueness in the announcement made me suspect a program with many small pieces / many composers—which increases the amount of work in a review (researching composer biographies, literature on the pieces, etc.).

When I looked at the concert handout, however, I saw that the program consisted of “only” three pieces. I soon realized that the performance / interpretation definitely deserved a review. However, as stated, I came unprepared—e.g., I did not bring along my camera to take decent photos. I had my notepad, even my iPad, on which I happened to have the sheet music for the Schubert sonata. All this, and the decision to write a review only happening gradually and after the concert had begun, explains the terser / more cursory nature of my comments in this review.

Antonio Vivaldi
Antonio Vivaldi

Vivaldi: Concerto in F minor, op.8/4, RV 297, L’inverno from Le quattro stagioni

Composer & Work

Antonio Vivaldi (1678 – 1741) was a prolific composer, primarily of operas, concerti, and chamber music. A small subset of his oeuvre (concerti and sonatas) are collected in op.1 up to op.12, each containing typically 6 or 12 sonatas or concerti. The 12 concerti op.8 were published under the title “Il cimento dell’armonia e dell’inventione” (The Contest between Harmony and Invention). Among these, the first four form a subgroup under the title “Le quattro stagioni” (The Four Seasons): A concerto for each of the seasons. To each of these concerti, Vivaldi wrote a sonnet describing the “narration” in these concerti. Alexander Boldachev opened the concert with his own transcription of Concerto in F minor, op.8/4, RV 297, “L’inverno in his own arrangement for harp. It features the following three movements:

  1. Allegro non molto
  2. Largo
  3. Allegro
Vivaldi’s Sonnet to the Concerto

Before he sat down at the harp, Alexander Boldachev recited the composer’s own sonnet to this concerto (text and English translation taken from Wikipedia):

(Allegro non molto)
Agghiacciato tremar trà nevi algenti
Al Severo Spirar d’ orrido Vento,
Correr battendo i piedi ogni momento;
E pel Soverchio gel batter i denti;

Passar al foco i dì quieti e contenti
Mentre la pioggia fuor bagna ben cento

Caminar Sopra il giaccio, e à passo lento
Per timor di cader girsene intenti;
Gir forte Sdruzziolar, cader à terra
Di nuove ir Sopra ‘l giaccio e correr forte
Sin ch’ il giaccio si rompe, e si disserra;
Sentir uscir dalle ferrate porte
Sirocco, Borea, e tutti i Venti in guerra
Quest’ é ‘l verno, mà tal, che gioja apporte.

(Allegro non molto)
To tremble from cold in the icy snow,
In the harsh breath of a horrid wind;
To run, stamping one’s feet every moment,
Our teeth chattering in the extreme cold

Before the fire to pass peaceful,
Contented days while the rain outside pours down.

We tread the icy path slowly and cautiously,
for fear of tripping and falling.
Then turn abruptly, slip, crash on the ground and,
rising, hasten on across the ice lest it cracks up.
We feel the chill north winds course through the home
despite the locked and bolted doors…
this is winter, which nonetheless
brings its own delights.

The Performance

When I read “L’inverno from Vivaldi’s Le quattro stagioni, op.8/4″ in the program notes, I naturally expected the harp to take on the role of the orchestra, and the cello somehow to “emulate” the violin solo. The latter of course would be a very challenging task for a cello. However, Alexander Boldachev’s introduction clarified that this is a transcription for the harp alone, covering both the orchestra and the solo part. In fact, Alexander Boldachev is in the process of transcribing all of Vivaldi’s “Le quattro stagioni” for his instrument!

I. Allegro non molto

Absolutely amazing! Already in the (orchestral) introduction, Alexander Boldachev astounded the audience with the extreme subtlety of his sotto voce / ppp playing: rarely have I heard such refined, subtle—and at the same time virtuosic harp playing. Nicanor Zabaleta (1907 – 1993) comes to mind, maybe Xavier de Maistre (*1973)—but none of the other harpists that I have heard come close to Alexander Boldachev’s finesse and virtuosity.

This wasn’t just about ppp playing, of course, but about the artist’s extremely differentiated dynamics: of course, not everything was ppp. The harpist clearly separated the solo voice and always kept a clear “distance” between solo and accompaniment/orchestra, producing a highly complex soundscape. The sections with fast, iridescent string textures often turned into ethereal, even aeolian sounds. True, the harp can’t always compete with some of the orchestral textures, e.g., the crispness, the shivering in the cold winter landscape. Still, in Alexander Boldachev’s interpretation gave a true flavor of Vivaldi’s music as an early, revolutionary masterpiece in “realistic” sound painting.

II. Largo

Calm, intimate, sheer beauty, without the slightest agitation, also in the accompaniment. And of course with a few extra, well-fitting ornaments in the cantilena. I really liked Alexander Boldachev’s calm, harmonious pace: violinists often tend to a relatively fluid tempo—presumably to avoid excessive sweetness. This in turn causes restlessness in the orchestral pizzicato accompaniment. Not so here, of course!

III. Allegro

A few keywords from my handwritten notes: poetry! And this clair-obscur (chiaroscuro), i.e., the changes, the contrasts between drama and intimacy: excellent again!

Rating: ★★★★½

Yes, the harp adds substantial changes to the character of Vivaldi’s original—but Alexander Boldachev’s arrangement is compelling and very fascinating nontheless! The transcription being his own, the harpist of course “owns” this piece—which is confirmed by the fact that he played without sheet music (harp arrangements are not just about the notes and dynamics, but they are typically filled with pedal annotations).

Gaspar Cassadò
Gaspar Cassadò

Cassadó: Suite for Cello Solo

Composer & Work

Gaspar Cassadó (Cassadó i Moreu, 1897 – 1966) was a famous Spanish (Catalan) cellist and composer. Cassadó played for Pablo Casals (1876 – 1873) at the age of nine and subsequently went to Paris to study with Casals. A major part of Cassadó’s oeuvre consists of transcriptions. Most of his original compositions are chamber music works (3 string quartets, works for cello and piano, works for solo guitar, a suite and a fugue for solo cello), and there is also a cello concerto. Gaspar Cassadó’s Suite for Cello Solo consists of three movements, all based on Spanish folk dances:

  1. Preludio-Fantasia (a Zarabanda)
  2. Sardana (Danza)
  3. Intermezzo e Danza Finale (a Jota)

The Performance

The work in the center of the program was not a transcription at all, but Cassadó’s original Suite for Cello Solo—music inspired by Catalán / Spanish dance and folk music. I didn’t have the sheet music with me. So, let me just try to extract words / phrases from my scarce scribblings describing my spontaneous impressions:

I. Preludio-Fantasia

I experienced Lev Sivkov’s playing as totally immersed, absorbed. The music felt like free preluding, an improvisation “in search of a theme”. The Spanish / Catalán origin of the music shone through, of course, in brief moments, motifs, ornaments in emphatic gestures. Once the music retreated to p, it felt thoughtful, still searching. This search continued in a fascinating interplay between urgency / closeness and distance / distant reflection. The movement didn’t really seem to “arrive”, but took on a playful attitude, with intermittent, intimate segments with sounds reminiscent of an aeolian harp (!). It finally dissolves “into thin air”, with two pizzicato chords.

II. Sardana (Danza)

The opening is an almost harmless, light and folksy flageolet / flautando cantilena, all in the high descant. The main part of this movement (with repetition) is a passionate, if not vehement, rough and strongly rhythmic folk dance: enthralling! There is a contrasting middle part, which Lev Sivkov presented as another folk song cantilena in the descant, with a gently rhythmic accompaniment.

III. Intermezzo e Danza Finale

The Intermezzo (Lento ma non troppo) begins with a strong crescendo into a highly expressive opening gesture, followed by a “quasi improvised” segment featuring pizzicato and flageolet moments. The improvisando aspect also dominates the middle section (Allegretto tranquillo), before the initial Lento ma non troppo gesture returns. The contrast to the following, wildly rhythmic Danza finale (Allegro marcato) could hardly be greater: playful, exuberant, playful, but also exiting, thrilling. For me, Lev Sivkov’s interpretation also showed aspects of humor (surprising modulations), intermittent alienation, both through sudden changes of atmosphere, with reflective moments amidst the almost violent dance: a kaleidoscope of red-blooded, Iberian temperament and folk dances.

Rating: ★★★★½

Franz Schubert, 1846, 3D Portrait
Franz Schubert

Schubert: Sonata for cello & harp in A minor, D.821, Arpeggione

Composer & Work

I barely need to introduce the Sonata in A minor for Arpeggione and Piano (D.821), the so-called “Arpeggione Sonata” by Franz Schubert (1797 – 1828). The work (composed 1824 in Vienna) is well known, and I have written about performances in several concert reviews—four with cello and piano, one with viola and piano. For simplicity, let me just quote from my description in one of these earlier concert reviews:

The Arpeggione is a fretted, 6-string instrument that was held (and tuned) like a guitar. It must have been rather inconvenient to play. Schubert’s sonata is one of the few compositions for this unusual instrument which quickly disappeared, soon after its invention (and for good reasons, it seems!). Very few of these instruments remain. Today, one can hear this composition in performances on either a cello or a viola. As both these instruments have four strings only, tuned in fifths (rather than the guitar-like tuning in fourths and thirds on the Arpeggione), this piece is quite tricky to play (contrary to how it sounds!). The sonata is in three movements:

  1. Allegro moderato
  2. Adagio
  3. Allegretto

The Performance

The final part of the program saw the two artists performing as a duo, in a sonata that is best known as a work for cello and piano. I was curious to see how replacing the keyboard instrument with a harp worked out. I anticipated that the piano part would be challenging on the harp, given Schubert’s tendency toward frequent modulations. Needless to say that Alexander Boldachev’s interpretation did not show signs of any challenge. Different from the Vivaldi transcription, here, he played with sheet music on a stand.

Harp vs. Piano

Let me start with general remarks. It was a stunning performance! At a first glance, the difference between a harp and a piano (e.g., a modern concert grand) seems huge—in sonority, colors, articulation (plucking vs. hammers on strings), the absence of a sustain pedal on the harp. The last point is essential: on the piano, one presses a pedal to sustain resonances, and to produce a legato. On the harp, the resonances linger on, unless the artist actively mutes the (selected) strings. In fact, the harp accompaniment felt unusually “legato“—more than what one would read from the piano score. However, at least in Alexander Boldachev’s hands, it sounded absolutely natural, i.e., exactly as one would expect from a harp.

Equally important, Schubert was not writing for a modern concert grand, but for what we now call a fortepiano: an instrument with brighter and much softer sonority, and with entirely different resonant behavior. It didn’t take me long to get the impression that the harp might as well be closer to Schubert’s piano sound than a modern concert grand! In fact, classical and early romantic cello sonatas almost inevitably present problems of balance and transparency when performed with a modern grand piano. In this sense, the harp a priori sounds like a better choice. And one should not forget that Schubert did not write for today’s huge concert halls, but for a much more modest, intimate setting.

Cello vs. Arpeggione

Not only was the arpeggione very uncomfortable to play, but it also must have had a much more modest (and probably brighter) sound than the cello. In this sense, using a cello (or a viola) as string instrument sounds like a workaround solution at best, not to mention the fact that playing the 6-string score on a 4-string instrument presents its own challenges.

I. Allegro moderato

The above points about balance and sonority were immediately confirmed in this performance! In fact, the aspects of intimacy, of emotional warmth came to full bearing, not least thanks to the small size of the venue. There was no need for Lev Sivkov to produce “big sonority”. Rather, he was able to keep the tone down, playing mf rather than f, which emphasized the subtlety, the intimacy in Schubert’s music. There were never any balance issues, and transparency was maintained even in sections where the cello plays pizzicato. The tempo was slower than in typical (piano) performances (considering that the annotation is Allegro moderato), but it felt entirely natural for this setting with harp.

For the recapitulation section, the artists took back the tempo for the opening theme and also lowered the volume, which made this part sound like a reminiscence, memories full of melancholy. And the harp seemed to fit this character perfectly: beautiful! I had perhaps one minor quibble: for the coda (soon after the fp), the artists reduced the tempo to adagio, if not lento—which seemed a bit excessive, questionable, since there is no indication of this in the score. An attempt to express extreme sadness?

II. Adagio

So beautiful: an intense, intimate love song. Longing, attraction, emerging desire, resignation, melancholy, sometimes from afar, then again closer, more intimate. A real highlight: Lev Sivkov’s final bars: wonderful, moving into the distance, then rapidly building tension for a harmonious transition to the Allegretto!

III. Allegretto

The theme of the third (Rondo) movement is another one of Schubert’s ingenious, serene and unperturbed Lied inventions. In the hands of these artists, the composition retained the beauty, simplicity and casual nature of a folk song, wrapped in a gentle, murmuring accompaniment. Nothing felt “forced” or “made up”—a revelation! The D minor episode added a serious note, but retained much of the naturalness of the Rondo theme. The second instance of the theme was softer, gently swaying, “internalized” and reflective. Even more so the following A major episode: slower, softer, yet joyously jubilating, playful and gentle, with a wonderful, almost whispered transition to F♯ minor: secrecy, intimacy. In the central, slower pizzicato section, the harp for once took over the lead tole with the cantilena, before the D minor episode returned, now in the guise of A minor.

Prior to the final transition to A major, the accompaniment features a short, descending chain of staccato intervals: on the harp, these sounded so light and casual: marvelous, and beating anything a piano (or fortepiano) can possibly offer! The final A major section was slower, pp: mere recollection, afterthought, reminiscence, loving remembrance from a world beyond, and finally transfiguration. With this, the ff chord in the penultimate measure would feel out of place—so, the artists played this soft, broad, mf at most, followed by a slow arpeggio chord.

Overall Rating: ★★★★★

Not only was this a harmonious, even congenial interpretation—it actually felt more authentic than performances with a modern grand piano. In other words, my overall impression: the best and most “authentic” (as opposed to “historically 100% accurate”) performance of the Arpeggione Sonata that I have ever heard in concert.

Camille Saint-Saëns, 1900 (source: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain)
Camille Saint-Saëns

Encore — Saint-Saëns: Le Cygne from Le carnaval des animaux

The marvel of the Arpeggione Sonata made it difficult to follow up with another, different piece / style. However, with the second round of applause, Lev Sivkov announced an encore—the ubiquitous “Swan”, i.e., “Le cygne” from Le carnaval des animaux by Camille Saint-Saëns (1835 – 1921). This calm, peaceful music proved to be a fitting conclusion that did not disturb the warm memories, the spirit of Schubert’s sonata that the listeners took home in their hearts.


A video recording of the performance of the Schubert sonata in this concert is available on YouTube, by courtesy of the organizer, Musical Discovery. Separately, there is a short smartphone video with the Allegro non molto from Alexander Boldachev’s interpretation of Vivaldi’s “L’inverno.


The author would like to express his gratitude to the organizer, Nina Orotchko / Musical Discovery, for the free entry to this concert.

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