Chamber: Saturday, June 1, 9:40 p.m.
in his semifinal chamber round
Vadym Kholodenko made a tenuous trip through the Franck Piano Quintet in F Minor for his chamber music appearance. There was no doubt that he knew the notes, but his communication with the Brentano String Quartet was seriously lacking. Many times, the first violinist had to look to him for a cue, which sometimes was no more than a nod of the head. It is impossible to ascertain if this was a lack of experience in playing chamber music or an unfamiliarity with the piece. This was the second inferior chamber music performance of the evening.
Quartert in his semifinal chamber round
The Franck is not frequently performed and is a thicket of chromatic writing. The opening was promising with a moody piano entrance, and the following allegro grew organically out of the introduction. Kholodenko was excellent in his dynamics and was right at the supportive level in the loudest parts without covering the string quartet. This is not easy to accomplish considering the fact of minimal rehearsal and that his seat at the piano is not the best spot for acoustics and judging balance. Even the soft passages reached an unacceptable level. The second movement is marked triple piano, but that was hardly ever achieved. Further, tempo was not good throughout the performance.
The problem was that it was directionless. The quartet was unsure where Kholodenko was headed so they were tentative. He didn’t give them much to go on as far as eye contact so they were left to fend for themselves at all of the critical transitions and risky rubato points. This made for a performance that lacked flow and tended to wander from one musical event to another.
Recital: Monday, June 3, 9:40 p.m.
Vadym Kholodenko tossed off a performance of Theofanidis’ Birichino because it was a requirement. He gave it a fine performance, without the humor (which no one else has approached either) and he appeared to like the piece. However, it is not much of a stretch to assume that playing cut into his allotted time and required him to delete one of the Liszt Transcendental Études from his performance of the set.
Performing all of them in one stretch is a daunting task, even with one of the most difficult ones omitted. But it was obvious that this is a signature piece for Kholodenko and, like a marathon runner, he has conditioned himself to play this exhausting and technically bewildering series of études in one sitting.
The challenges are awesome to behold. Liszt started this work when he was a precocious 15-year-old and continued to work on them, adding layer on top of layer of difficulty, for more than 10 years. By the time he was finished, they were practically unplayable but are now considered to be a rite of passage for pianists aiming at a concert career. However, they are rarely played as a set, mostly because of the endurance factor. Kholodenko didn’t appear to tire (which was as amazing as his technical mastery), but he wiped his brow and the slick-with-sweat keyboard more and more as the performance progressed.
Liszt lavished more care on the musical aspects of these pieces than he did on other works for the piano designed to do little else than show off his prodigious skills. As a result, even though they are filled with all of his favorite tricks (parallel octaves played incredibly quickly, runs up and down the keyboard, many tasks going on at once for all the fingers, etc.), they have some musical value.
Kholodenko’s ability to play all the notes and not use any of the simplified ossia was admirable, and he did his best to also bring out the musical aspects of the études. He observed all of the dynamics and offered some lovely legato melodies and some surprising soft passages, even a pianissimo. Of course, it is the loud portions that impress and he certainly played loudly. But no matter how difficult it was for him to keep some sound in reserve for the biggest moments, he managed to do so.
However, subtlety was not the purpose of Kholodenko’s strategy in programming. He ended his preliminary round with a highly effective performance of Stravinsky’s Trois mouvements de Pétrouchka. It was the most characteristic performance of the piece in the entire competition. While others were more musical, his was the one that cleaved closest to the character of the ballet. In this final performance of the semifinals, he pulled out all the technical stops and dazzled the audience.
◊ Our profile of Vadym Kholodenko, 26, Ukraine
◊ You can see quick links to the reviews of the other semifinalists here