Fort Worth — Vadym Kholodenko, winner of the 2013 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, showed Fort Worth audiences Friday why he earned that prize. His performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in G Minor, Op. 16, demonstrated near-limitless technical mastery of his instrument. This concerto is one of the most technically demanding in the pianist’s repertoire, terrifyingly so, and Kholodenko delivered an astonishing performance. For the most part, the orchestra supported him effectively—strings in particular handled the considerable challenges of Prokofiev’s writing with energy and verve.
Prokofiev dedicated this concerto to the memory of his close friend Max Schmidthof, who committed suicide in April 1913 after writing a farewell letter to Prokofiev. The concerto has few lyrical passages, lacking a traditional slow movement, and barely gives the pianist a chance to rest, as if the pianist playing this piece of extraordinary intensity and difficulty will have no room for anything else, not even grief.
Kholodenko’s performance indeed was gripping enough to distract listeners from competing thoughts, from the atmospheric, almost ghostly beginning of the first movement to its unusually long and seemingly impossibly difficult cadenza, into the unremitting second movement Scherzo, the Intermezzo with its unusual harmonies and brief moment of lyricism, and the wickedly complex fourth movement Finale, marked allegro tempestoso.
Like most Cliburn winners, he has clearly been adopted as an honorary Texan by the music lovers of Ft. Worth. He received several curtain calls, finally sitting at the keyboard again to perform an encore of Henry Purcell’s Ground in C Minor.
The other pieces on the program were rather less engaging—the evening opened with a performance of Verdi’s overture from Nabucco, which it turns out is more fun to play than to listen to, and ended with Brahms’ Symphony No, 2 in D Major, which, with all four movements in major keys, is one of the most cheerful pieces Brahms ever wrote. There were many appealing aspects to the Fort Worth Symphony’s performance, including technically solid playing from most of the orchestra. However, it lacked the liveliness and energy of the best performances of the symphony.
Perhaps because of the length of the program, Miguel Harth-Bedoya didn’t provide remarks from the stage. This decision made a welcome change from the occasionally overly long remarks that have been typical in recent seasons.