Tribuna Musical: Arcadi Volodos, the eleven-encore pianist

Blog Tribuna Musical | jueves, septiembre 13, 2012
Arcadi Volodos, the eleven-encore pianist
This season is being one of great pianists and violinists. We had the visits of Lang Lang, Schiff and Buchbinder (pianists); and of Mintz, Chang, Suwanai, (violinists). Now we had the debut of the Russian pianist Arcadi Volodos, 40-years-old, long famous for his amazing dexterity. He gave a recital at the Colón for the Abono del Bicentenario. At the end, apart from confirming that he is an important pianist -though with flaws- he had played an astonishing eleven encores. Although he was trumped by Daniel Barenboim, who years ago offered more than a round dozen, those eleven pieces amounted to a third part of a short concert and some of the people who stayed were afterwards commenting outside the theatre and trying to identify the chosen scores, all of them rather unfamiliar: a rosary of his personal taste.

A curious thing that all three famous pianists of this "Abono" placed a Schubert Sonata, and if Kissin had been able to offer his recital, he would have also executed one. Strange, for Schubert sonatas aren´t easy to understand, and their values are intimate and sometimes abstruse. One of the most uncompromising is Nº 14, in A minor, D. 784. It starts with a severe movement reminiscent of the initial fragment of Beethoven´s Fifth Symphony in its sparing use of short motives and pregnant silences; Volodos opted for a rather slow tempo sustained with conviction; his pianism was infallible, but I felt that his touch in "fortissimo" wasn´t schubertian but lisztian, too brusque and forceful, far from Schiff´s control. However, the sound was beautiful when he played softly, and this was again shown in the dreamy slow movement. And the Finale, with its "avant la lettre" similitude to Smetana´s "Moldau", was stunning in its relentless drive.

His choice to close the First Part was inusual for a celebrity of virtuoso feats: the introspective "Three Intermezzi" op.117, by Brahms. Although there was much beauty and sensitivity in his readings, I felt that tempi were too slow and the music needed more pulse. And now to Liszt´s huge, seminal Sonata in B minor, touchstone of great pianists. I confess to considerable disappointment: it is wrong to think that this sonata can be placed wilfully: on the contrary, the closer you come to note values as marked the better its splendid structure appears. Volodos distorted motives from the very beginning, he played the fast bits too fast and too slow the slow ones. And he annoyingly blurred descending scales thumping away with grotesque magnification in the deepest part of the clavier.

And now, always seraphically calm, began the long string of encores, prompted by an audience that didn´t seem to have enough and by his apparently great desire to play. Well, circumstances were so rare that the Colón Press Office did something probably unprecedented: it sent to the critics a list of encores. Unfortunately they mentioned only eight of the eleven, but thanks anyway, for we were all nonplussed at least partially. It was interesting that some were transcriptions by Volodos himself (his first record was indeeed called "Transcriptions") and that no less than three pieces were by that delicate master of understatement, the Catalan Mompou. Also, most were slow, soft and short, charmingly played miniatures.

1: a poetic "Nocturne, S. 207, ´En rêve´ (´Dreaming") ", by Liszt. 2: Mompou/Volodos: "Sólo las flores sobre ti" ("Only the flowers over you"). 3: a virtuosic "Malagueña" by Lecuona as arranged by Volodos (stunning). 4: a Schubert "Menuet, D.600" that sounds quaintly Baroque. 5: The trilly Mompou piece "Jeunes filles au jardin" ("Young girls in the garden") from the suite "Scènes d´enfants" ("Children´s scenes"). 6: a fabulous performance, even with its excesses, of the "Rákoczi March" by Liszt/Horowitz/Volodos. 7: the Siciliana as arranged by Bach of Vivaldi´s Concerto RV 565, very cleanly played. 8: something slow and evanescent; Scriabin? 9: an Argentine piece. 10: Mompou: "Música callada" ("Muted music"). 11: unidentified.

Balance: Schiff is my sort of player, searching and noble, but both Lang Lang and Volodos are valuable executants of the first rank.

As a complement, I want to refer to the Cappella Istropolitana, an interesting group from Bratislava (capital of Slovakia) who replaced the Academy of St-Martin-in-the-Fields (they cancelled) in the Nuova Harmonia subscription series at the Coliseo. It is led by concertino Robert Maracek, a portly gentleman who was revealed as very able and orthodox. The 18 players comport 14 strings, two oboes and two horns (which allows them to play a goodly number of symphonies of the classical period). Their collective sound is meaty and well-tuned, with fine mechanical control, and their versions may not be innovative but neither are they boring; only a few horn fluffs disturbed an evening of good music.

One choice was especially worthy: Joseph Martin Kraus, with similar dates to Mozart´s (1756-92), was the greatest musician of Gustavus III of Sweden´s court. His Symphony in C minor, Vb142, disquieting, very "Sturm und Drang", is quite interesting and well built. The author is unknown here but very welcome. The sweet-and-sour Concerto for strings by Nino Rota is very characteristic of this Fellini-associated composer. The lovely Dvorák String Serenade is an evergreen. And Mozart´s Symphony Nº 29 is one of the best of his early period. Encores: a splendid movement from a Haydn symphony, a good Piazzolla tango and a Slovak melody.

For Buenos Aires Herald

Tribuna Musical: Arcadi Volodos, the eleven-encore pianist

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