By Inge Kjemtrup
The cello has been the instrumental star of this year’s BBC Proms in London. Throughout the two-month festival, a pride of leading cellists has taken the stage at the Royal Albert Hall, demonstrating the beauty, power, and versatility of this most heroic of string instruments.
From the very first Prom on July 15, when Argentinian cellist Sol Gabetta played Elgar’s soul-stirring concerto, cellists have been the stars, with performances by Alban Gerhardt, Johannes Moser, Paul Watkins, Guy Johnston, Steven Isserlis, Leonard Elschenbroich, Narek Hakhnazaryan, and Alisa Weilerstein, and even an afternoon concert of cellists en masse.
So I was looking forward to attending the final cello-centered Prom on August 25 featuring Truls Mørk playing the difficult Shostakovich First Concerto with the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra under Vasily Petrenko.
But that morning it was announced that Mørk had to withdraw due to illness, and a 25-year-old Russian, Alexey Stadler, would be stepping in. According to his agent, Stadler had only 11-hours warning and had to travel from Berlin to London in time for a single rehearsal with the orchestra.
This, of course, is exactly the kind of last-minute show-must-go-on situation that can make (or break) an artistic career. Fortunately for Stadler, he had performed the concerto in June with the San Francisco Symphony and Vladimir Ashkenazy, and was up to the challenge.
If I found myself missing some of the deep cello sound in the recording of this concerto by Mstislav Rostropovich, the work’s dedicatee, I nonetheless found much to admire in Stadler’s playing: rhythmic vitality in the repeating “D-S-C-H” motif of the first movement, tenderness in the high registers of his instrument in the introspective second movement, and determined control in the challenging cadenza that comprises the third movement.
Stadler was warmly applauded by the Proms audience, and offered a thoughtful version the Sarabande from the Bach D minor Suite as an encore.
The concert began with a new work by Emily Howard, Torus (Concerto for Orchestra), hypnotic in its waves of texture interrupted by individual and section solos, and it ended with Rachmaninov’s massive Symphony No. 3. But it was seeing a cellist play with such panache after being unexpectedly placed in the spotlight that was the real highlight of the evening.