Het laatste album van de Belarussische cellist Aleksandr Khramouchin, die samen met zijn vrouw, de pianiste Éliane Reyes, de sterren van de hemel speelt. Er was toen, tijdens de opnamen, zelfs nog geen schaduw van de tragiek die hen als gezin zou overvallen.
We arrived in Ervy-le-Châtel during the evening of 28 April 2023 after dropping off our 15-month-old daughter Adèle with our faithful friends Michou and Christophe. We both had bad sore throats and were worried that it might be Covid, luckily the tests were negative but, weakened by the virus, we were on antibiotics. The next morning we went to see the church where our concert would be held. Sasha immediately sensed the energy there and wanted to find the time to record a Bach suite during the rehearsal, as he was planning eventually to record all six of the Bach suites. Unfortunately, this wasn't possible as all of the equipment had to be set up and there were too many people coming and going in the church.
Our luthier friend Fabien Gram, the artistic director of Mosaïques d'Ervy, came to where we were staying that afternoon so that Sasha could try ut his cello; they talked for an hour about the final adjustments that needed to be made. Sasha wasn't feeling well and took a nap before the concert. Just as we were leaving for the concert he said to me, «If we do an encore, we'll play Saint-Saëns's The Swan! He then added «Are you sure it's not bad luck? I reassured him: «It's a beautiful piece, we've never played it before and my daughter Laure- Eline loves it, so it'll be a nice present for her». Sasha regained his strength and inspiration with the first notes of the Rachmaninov sonata that opened the concert. He played everything by heart, dominating the stage like a Persian solar lion, overcoming the stage fright that beset him in every performance. Except that in some way he needed that stage fright so that he could be transported by the music. I embraced his musical intentions and accompanied him like a shadow, sometimes putting forward a few ideas of my own. There was a mutual musical dialogue, as always in our duo. We didn't need to rehearse much, the osmosis was so obvious. Sasha was my soul mate in life and in music.
The programme for this latest concert included the Rachmaninov sonata, a Chopin waltz, the Debussy sonata, Chopin's Polonaise brillante and the Sarabande from Bach's 3rd suite. He told Fabien Gram after the concert that he'd let himself explore things he had never explored before. He'd felt completely free! That evening was the first time we had performed together for a year, because of Covid and all of its postponements and cancellations ... Our concert in Ervy that night was the first of an intended series of twelve concerts together in France, Belgium, Turkey... I could never have imagined that Sasha, Aleksandr Khramouchin, would put his bow to his instrument for the last time in the history of our duo with Saint Saëns's Swan; he imbued this concert with a sensitivity and fragility, a beauty of sound and an expressiveness that were out of the ordinary. I would have given anything to ward off fate...
Sasha recovered In the days following this concert and accepted three concerts at a moment's notice, virtually sight-reading Messiaen's Turangalila a work he did not know at all. The principal cello of the Brussels Philharmonic had cancelled his participation in the work and the orchestra was looking for a replacement. I quickly printed out the fifty-five pages of the score; Sasha read it through and accepted the Brussels Philharmonic's offer. After an hour's work in his studio he told me «there are six bars where I still have to find a solution for the fingerings we'll see tomorrow at the rehearsal». After one hour's work, only six bars out of the fifty-five pages of the cello part of this gigantic symphony, Messiaen's monumental masterpiece, still withstood him. That was Sasha's genius!
He could learn anything in one day, even a concerto. He photographed the score in his head, it matured inside him, he picked up his cello... and the work sprang to life under his fingers. He told me that once he had arrived in Russia for a concert; his agent had told him that he would be playing the Dvorak concerto. It was April 1st. Sacha arrived at the concert hall and saw the poster announcing «concertos by Dvorak and Schumann». He thought it was a joke and said to the organiser, «That's a great April Fool's joke! But the organiser replied: «No it's not! We hired you to play the Schumann and Dvorak concertos at the same concert. Didn't your agent tell you that? The concert was the next day. Sasha asked for 30 minutes alone in his dressing room to find out if he still remembered the Schumann concerto he'd last played it ten years ago. This was a time when there were no iPhones, no internet or Imslp! He came out of his dressing room after thirty minutes and said, «that's fine, we can rehearse». And they started rehearsing. The concert was extraordinary.
Coming back to May 2023, Sasha performed the three concerts with the Brussels Philharmonic under Kazushi Ono, who couldn't believe that Sasha had learnt the entire work at the last minute. The last of these concerts took place at De Singel in Antwerp on 6 May 2023. When he returned, Sasha told me that he had walked down the same streets that he had walked with his father (who had died earlier that year) and that he had never played so well with an orchestra in his life. He also said that one of the players in the orchestra asked «Who is that playing the solos with such a sound? The only person I know with such a sound is Khramouchin». This violinist, Annelies Broeckhoven, had taken a course with Sasha thirty years earlier and had never heard him since. And she recognised his sound. Sasha said to me: «That's the best compliment I've ever had. But this is the last time in my life that I'll play in an orchestra. From now on, I only want to play as a soloist, because that's what I'm made for. Yes, Sasha, that was the last time that you played in an orchestra in this world, and I hope that up there you've met up with your father, that you're playing the Handel-Halvorsen Passacaglia with Ivry, that you're playing with Lars Vogt, whose death upset you so much, and that you're playing under Lev Markiz, about whom you wrote such a lovely Facebook post. Say hello to our dear Philip Hirschhorn and your idols Shafran and Heifetz.
Now I have to take care of our little Adèle, for our sake, to help her grow up in the way we wanted for her. As Cortot said about Lipatti's last recital, and had previously been said of Schubert, «What he didn't yet know, he had already felt».
Aleksandr was born on 13 November 1979. He died on 13 May 2023 from a violent septic shock.
Het contrastrijke programma op deze cd is door beide musici met zorg samengesteld, want het belicht zowel de vele uitgelezen klankkleuren van de beide instrumenten als de grote stilistische verschillen tussen de verschillende composities. Dit is bovendien fascinerend en volmaakt spel dat door het overlijden van Khramouchin helaas geen vervolg meer krijgt. Wát een verlies!
In het cd-boekje is tevens een van sprekende afbeeldingen voorziene familiekroniek opgenomen,