On December 22, 1808 at Vienna’s Theater an der Wien, Ludwig van Beethoven staged a four-hour concert that included the premieres of his symphonies No. 5 in C minor and No. 6 in F major (“Pastoral”), Piano Concerto No. 4 in G major, “Choral Fantasy,” Fantasy in G major, Op. 77, for solo piano and sections from his Mass in C major, as well as a reprise of his 1796 concert aria “Ah! perfido.”
A re-creation of that epic event was staged last weekend at St. David’s Hall in Cardiff by the Welsh National Opera Orchestra, Carlo Rizzi conducting; the BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales, Jaime Martín conducting; pianists Steven Osborne (in the concerto) and Llŷr Williams (in the fantasies); and soprano Alwyn Mellor (in the aria).
The concert, recorded by the BBC, streams until Feb. 18 at this address:
Vladimir Ashkenazy has abruptly left the stage. A statement from his talent agency offered no details about his decision, stating only that the 82-year-old pianist and conductor has decided that “the time has come for him to retire from public performances and to do so with immediate effect.”
Ashkenazy, born in the Russian city of Gorky and educated at the Moscow Conservatory, vaulted into the top tier of pianists after winning second prize in the 1955 Chopin Competition in Warsaw, first prize in Belgium’s Queen Elisabeth Competition in 1956, and sharing first prize with John Ogdon in the 1962 Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow.
Increasingly at odds with Soviet authorities, Ashkenazy left for the West in 1963, settling initially in London, then moving in 1968 to Iceland, homeland of his wife, Dódý. He subsequently became an Icelandic citizen. The family has lived in Switzerland since 1978.
Ashkenazy’s conducting career, which began in earnest in the 1980s, has included posts with the Royal Philharmonic and Philharmonia Orchestra in London, the Iceland Symphony Orchestra, the NHK Symphony Orchestra in Japan, the Czech Philharmonic and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra in Australia, and guest-conducting appearances with many other leading orchestras.
His extensive discography, mostly on Decca label, includes piano, chamber and orchestral music ranging from Bach, Mozart, Beethoven and Chopin to Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Stravinsky and Shostakovich.