Alexander Ivashkin, who passed away last week at only 65, was in the very first rank of international cellists. And it was our good fortune to have him based in Christchurch for almost a decade from 1991.

Ivashkin was a charismatic teacher and a musician of limitless passion. His repertoire was wide, focusing on Russian music and that of Alfred Schnittke in particular - hardly surprising after his fine 1996 biography of the composer.

Best of all, Ivashkin took the music of his new homeland to heart, in a brave double CD on Ode Records, Under the Southern Cross. This featured the solo cello music of New Zealand composers from Gillian Whitehead and Jack Body to Lyell Cresswell and Eve de Castro-Robinson. After 15 years, this set is still in print.

Returning to Europe, he built up an extensive CD catalogue, including definitive Schnittke recordings for Chandos.


Ivashkin's most recent release, through New Zealand's own Alma Classics, couples works by Sofia Gubaidulina, Vladimir Tarnopolski and Roger Redgate, played with various musicians and conductors, and recorded in the presence of their composers.

Gubaidulina's 1997 Canticle of the Sun is a glorious sonic cloudburst, in which the BBC Singers chant the nature-worshipping words of St Francis of Assisi while Ivashkin's ardent obbligato vies with magical percussion.

This performance has been caught with remarkable presence in London's St Giles Cripplegate, the other two in Moscow's Russian Academy of Music and Tchaikovsky State Conservatoire.

The searing emotionalism of Vladimir Tarnopolski's The Wind of Unspoken Words might be expected in a lament on the death of the violinist Oleg Kagan. Ivashkin's cello threads its sorrowful song through clustering banks of sound.

The English composer, Roger Redgate, might seem the odd man out, but his 2011 Black Icons is an angry reaction to the persecution of Russian poet and activist Alina Vitukhnovskaya.

Redgate asks his soloist to navigate a difficult path through alien landscapes and Ivashkin does so with sinuous skill. One wonders what resonances this wild, paranoia-inducing score, with its exciting jabs, stabs and shrieks, might have had for the cellist's Muscovite colleagues.

7 Feb, 2014 10:50am
2 minutes to read