Monday, July 21, 2008

A surfeit of notes

Last night's concert at St Catherine's church was the first of two concert by the young Ukrainian piano virtuoso Vadim Cholodenko, falsely advertised as a Russian. He studies (studied?) with the mother-in-law of the mini piano festivals' organiser, whose son played in the festival last year. This sort of thing makes my skin creep. Don't they have 'open and fair' recruitment in the music business? Probably less than anywhere else.

The programme included Beethoven's first piano sonata (1795), Balakirev's second (1905) and Liszt's transcendental etudes (1851). Although this looks as if it covers three centuries, the Balakirev sounded as if it could easily have been written at the same time as the Liszt etudes.
This is what I don't like about the Russian school of piano playing (or playing anything) - it always encompasses a narrow range of styles and periods. Yes, in the 19th century a huge amount of piano music was written, and zillions of notes all over the place, but this does not really show off the full range of a 'virtuoso's' talents. Though I expect people can make a living playing nothing but music from 1820 to 1870, and be lauded for it. For me a 'meet the new young pianist' programme would include some Bach, Mozart, something 19th century (Liszt, Chopin, Schubert?) and something that is really 20th century, maybe even Bach/Busoni - in an emergency John Cage's 4'33" could do (though the copyright fees might be high).

Cholodenko shot off into the Beethoven as if a swarm of bees was after him. It seemed as if he could not get it over fast enough, dropping the repeat of the first movement, which is a really structural component. (My piano teacher suggested I work on this over the summer - she's crazy - and while my speed is very slow, I was shocked at the tempo Cholodenko chose). The whole performance sounded very dry, almost like one might have played Bach, but just incredibly fast.

In the Balakirev 2nd sonata Cholodenko got into his own. Balakirev (1836/7 - 1910) is one of 'The Five' who started the revival of Russian national music in the 19th century, the others being Cui (who?), Borodin, Mussorgski (who looks like a total drunk on every painting in every post-soviet music academy) and Rimskij-Korsakov. This sonata was a monumental piece, which reminded a bit of the Chopin etude that Freddy Kempf played in Vilnius as an encore earlier this year. Lots of noodling about with about nine fingers with a single digit melody being in the pinky of the right hand, or so. He brought this out beautifully and clearly.

Finally 8 of Liszt's transcendental etudes. Again it was massive and complex music written clearly before Liszt got religion (when his music became much simpler and clearer). But here, also, Cholodenko produced some sublime moments - he is really good at 'lyrical' and should play some more music like that. It's also nice that he is not a 'piano basher' who thumps his instrument. But I'd like to hear him play an extended range of repertoire. And I will - he'll play a Mozart piano concerto on Tuesday.