Kholodenko is electric in Godowsky/ Chopin at FIU Music Festival

By Lawrence Budmen

Vadym Kholodenko performed a piano recital Monday afternoon at the Kravis Center in West Palm Bach. Photo: Ira Polyarnaya

Vadym Kholodenko performed at the FIU Music Festival Friday night. Photo: Ira Polyarnaya

Leopold Godowsky’s Studies on Chopin Etudes are the Mount Olympus of the keyboard repertoire. Many major concert pianists dare not play a note of Godowsky’s awesome tests of technique, musicality and endurance. These works held no terrors, however, for Vadym Kholodenko. The 2013 Gold Medal winner of the Van Cliburn International Competition played a selection of these pianistic minefields to conclude an impressive recital on Friday night at the Wertheim Performing Arts Center.

Throughout the performance, presented by the FIU Music Festival and Friends of Chamber Music, the young Ukranian exhibited an interpretive depth and command of the instrument well beyond his previous South Florida appearances.

He opened with a magisterial reading of Mozart’s Fantasia in C minor, projecting the drama and gravitas beneath the elegant pages with finely varied dynamics. He followed with Beethoven’s Bagatelles, Op. 33, another reliable source of torment for would-be great pianists, but Kholodenko gave a textbook demonstration of articulation and control while bringing charm to these short playful vignettes. There was lilt and élan in the opener, the Bagatelle in E-flat Major, and the waltz-like Viennese dance of No. 3 in C Major sparkled under Kholodenko’s fingers. 

He offered a finely textured mix of classical restraint and romantic impetuosity in the Schubertian melodies of No. 6 in D Major. The Rondo a capriccio (better known as Rage over a Lost Penny) may be one of Beethoven’s most familiar and overplayed works, but Kholodenko dusted away the musical cobwebs with rapid-fire precision.

All of that was mere prelude to the etudes. A pianist of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Godowsky published over 50 of his imaginative and fiendishly difficult variants on Chopin’s works. Some of his studies adhere fairly closely to the originals while others utilize only elements of Chopin’s compositions. Many are conceived for the left hand alone and Godowsky freely added his own harmonics and counterpoint. It would not be overstating the case to suggest that many of these incredible reinventions require four hands to bring off, but Kholodenko gave superb realizations with the normal two.

The rolling octaves of the first etude were executed brilliantly, but Kholodenko really came into his own with the left hand version of the famous Etude No. 3 in E Major. He floated the iconic melody with elegance while bringing intensity to the tempest-tossed central episode. Godowsky’s rumbling underpinning emerged with fire in a dramatic performance of the “Revolutionary Etude.” In some of the lighter etudes, Kholodenko’s graceful touch and ability to toss off keyboard-spanning fistfuls of notes channeled near perfect virtuosity — competition-winning playing indeed. 

A standing ovation and cheers brought Kholodenko back for an encore of Liszt’s Transcendental Etude No. 5 (Feux follets). Assayed with feathery lightness, Kholodenko’s hands hardly seemed to touch the keys. In such specialist repertoire, Kholodenko would be hard to surpass and hopefully he will explore more of these unique creations in future appearances.

The FIU Music Festival presents violinist Robert Davidovici and pianist Bernadene Blaha in an all Beethoven program, 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Wertheim Performing Arts Center.

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Sat Nov 9, 2019
at 1:50 pm
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