Kholodenko makes uneven debut at Festival Miami

By Lawrence Budmen

2013 Van Cliburn Competition winner Vadym Kholodenko performed Tuesday night at Festival Miami.

Van Cliburn Competition Gold Medal winner Vadym Kholodenko performed Tuesday night at Festival Miami.

There were more than a few empty seats at Gusman Concert Hall Tuesday night when Vadym Kholodenko, Gold Medal winner of the 2013 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, made his South Florida debut in a Festival Miami recital. Perhaps election night distractions were responsible for the sparse audience but the young Ukrainian pianist clearly impressed the assembled listeners. He revealed prodigious talent as well as the need for greater artistic growth.

The Cliburn Competition’s past winners have included such impressive artists as Rada Lupu and Cristina Ortiz but its top prize has also gone to less stellar, quickly forgotten talents (Simone Pedroni, Stanislav Iodenitch).

Kholodenko seems to fall into a middle ground among the competition’s alums. It is easy to see why he garnered top honors. His technique is nearly flawless with fingers of steel that can play the most complex passages at extreme tempos with total accuracy. At this point, his artistic instincts seem more attuned to highly colorful keyboard showpieces rather than the more cerebral subtleties of the Austro-German repertoire.

Handel’s Chaconne in G Major, the concert’s opener, seemed to encompass Kholodenko’s strengths and weaknesses. Counterpoint and inner voices were clean and strongly projected, no small feat in translating a work conceived for harpsichord to the modern piano. Still, too often the rhythms were stiff, the tone monochromatic.

The runs and trills in Mozart’s Rondo in D Major were finely managed but Kholodenko’s pace was so bright and jaunty that the wonderful minor key modulations seemed to pass unnoticed. Kholodenko summoned both the grace and sadness beneath the classical strophes of the Rondo in A minor, his shading and touch exquisite.

Beethoven’s Sonata No. 10 in G Major was strongest in the second movement Andante. Here Kholodenko’s astutely judged tempos and glints of pianistic color embellished the  inventive theme and variations. Bass lines and important writing for the left hand were even and clear in the outer movements but, despite Kholodenko’s bright pace and lovely playing, the music remained too straitlaced, lacking expressive nuance.

After intermission Kholodenko seemed more relaxed in the extroverted scores of Debussy and Balakirev.  Debussy’s Children’s Corner Suite benefited from his fluid rhythmic sense and variegated dynamics. The clipped phrases and sudden hesitations of “Serenade for the Doll” were delightful. Shimmering colors propelled “The Snow is Dancing” with the rhythm sustained even at the softest pianissimo.  “Golliwogg’s Cakewalk” was vigorous and bouncy, the fast hand crossings seamlessly achieved.

Book II of Debussy’s Images was even more impressive. Big-boned contrasts of volume and tone and whirling, misty colors imbued Debussy’s impressionism with a languid aura and excitement. The bold chords and progressions of “Et is lune descend sur le temple qui fut” (And the moon descends on the temple)  were aptly weighted and emphatic.

Balakirev’s  “Oriental fantasy” Islamey has been called the most technically difficult keyboard piece ever written. (Some might award that accolade to Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition or Ligeti’s Etudes.) Certainly this Russian pyrotechnical display held no terrors for Kholodenko. Indeed the score brought out the dynamism he had been suppressing all evening.  Some of the Debussy impressionistic hues found their way into the central section. Kholodenko shaped the long melodic lines eloquently without exaggerating the score’s Orientalia.

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Wed Nov 5, 2014
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