Classical Music Guide - Monday, July 22, 2019 - Written by Donald Isler

Vadym Kholodenko - IKIF

Vadym Kholodenko - IKIF
21st International Keyboard Institute and Festival
Merkin Hall
July 18th, 2019

Mozart: Fantasia in C Minor, K. 475
Beethoven: Six Bagatelles, Op. 126
Beethoven: Rondo a capriccio, Op. 129
Godowsky: Selections From Studies on Chopin Etudes
Tchaikovsky: Piano Sonata in C-Sharp Minor, Op. Posth. 80

Vadym Kholodenko was the 2013 Cliburn Competition winner, and has also won many other awards. He is a 33 year old pianist originally from Ukraine, and has a busy international career.

The Mozart Fantasia with which he started the program began in a thoughtful manner, with very individual phrasing and pacing. The section before the return of the original theme sounded very improvisatory, and there was a dramatic conclusion.

Of the Beethoven Bagatelles, the composer's last major piano work, I especially liked Kholodenko's playing of the two that seem to be "slow movements", namely the third and sixth. The tempi seemed "just right" and the expressivity was very fine, for example with the simmering tension in the second half of No. 6, where that piece visits A-Flat Major. The other Bagatelles seemed rather slower than one often hears them and yet, there were some very interesting effects as a result. For instance, No. 5 was so slow it seemed ruminative, in an intriguing way, and the section after the double bar, in C Major, was very beautiful.

Beethoven's Op. 129, also known as "The Rage Over a Lost Penny" can be played like a steamroller, barreling ahead. That can be convincing if done well, but so was Mr. Kholodenko's approach, which was not so very fast but featured humor, terrific clarity, and original ideas.

Chopin, in his etudes, pushed out the boundaries of existing piano technique and Godowsky, with his etudes, each based on one or more of the Chopin etudes, stretched them out even further. It is a huge accomplishment to be able to play these Godowsky works, let alone as persuasively as did Mr. Kholodenko. Interestingly, it was not "Sturm und Drang" that impressed, but the pianist's wonderful workmanship and sensitive musicianship.

I was sorry that the program merely said that Mr. Kholodenko would play "selections" from these etudes, as opposed to listing them individually. Not knowing all of these pieces inside out I was, at least, able to identify one Chopin etude each one was based on, but wished I'd had a "Godowsky GPS" to tell me exactly "where I was." The first four were largely based on the first four etudes of Chopin's Op. 10. Then came one based on the F Major Etude, No. 8. That was followed by one based on the Revolutionary Etude, and finally there was one that came from the Butterfly Etude.

Particularly impressive were the three that Godowsky composed for the left hand alone, No. 3, transposed into D-Flat Major, the end of which was particularly beautiful, No. 4, in the original key (C-Sharp Minor), and the Revolutionary, transposed up half a step to C-Sharp Minor.

Not to overstate a point, but performances like Mr. Kholodenko's of these etudes were, for me, among the high points of IKIF this year, and one of the justifications for having the Festival!

The Tchaikovsky Sonata with which he concluded is an early work I had never heard before. Though not as great as his later works it is very interesting to hear what he was producing in his last year of conservatory. And one probably couldn't get a better introduction to it than Mr. Kholodenko's wonderful performance.

The first movement is tempestuous some of the time, and in a romantic "haze" at other times. The second movement has a simple but elegantly stated theme which returns later with very quiet ornamentation, and there is a surprise ending which is pianissimo. The third movement is lively, shimmering and mischievous in C Major, with a contrasting trio section in A Minor. The finale is brilliant and difficult, though apparently easy for Mr. Kholodenko, who produced a huge sound at the end.

The first encore was a Scarlatti sonata which was so perfect in every way that I wish I had a recording of it! It is not one of the fastest or hardest Scarlatti sonatas but this performance had everything: calm, elegance, incredible articulation and delicacy, and subtlety.

Mr. Kholodenko played one more encore, which, I was told, was a Round Dance by Purcell. To my ears, it had a Spanish flavor, and was based on a repeated chord progression with constant sotto voce variations in the melody. It was delightful!

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