From Handel to Adès, Kholodenko provides a memorable evening of music

By Devin Cholodenko

Vadym Kholodenko performed a recital for Friends of Chamber Music Tuesday night in Coral Gables. Photo: Jean-Baptiste Millot

Vadym Kholodenko opened the season for Friends of Chamber Music Tuesday night with a display of consummate artistry at the Congregational United Church of Christ in Coral Gables. The 

Ukrainian pianist performed works by Handel, Haydn, Beethoven, Adès, and Liszt to a raptly attentive audience.

The ambitious second half of the concert began with Traced Overhead by Thomas Adès. Written in 1996, the work expresses a kind of musical floating or ascension across the span of three movements. Exceedingly complex and shimmering harmonies float up, down, and around the stratosphere of the piano’s register. Kholodenko’s interpretation created an appealing ambiance and deftly captured a quality of elusiveness. Specifically nuanced were his spiraling melodic flourishes, painted with long brush strokes, and use of the damper pedal, which is meticulously notated by Adès in the score.

While the opening works of the evening showcased Kholodenko’s proficiency in an eclectic assortment of repertoire, the 2013 Van Cliburn winner shone most brightly in the works of Liszt. In the two selections, taken from Liszt’s canonical “Years of Pilgrimage” suites, musical expression can only exist where technique is robust.

In Liszt’s “Dante” Sonata Kholodenko’s ground-cleaving dynamic power and scorching virtuosity were on full display. Yet there was also  a keen awareness of the dramatic elements in Liszt’s score—notions of heaven and hell, angelic choirs, and more—that pervades the music. Through thunderous chromatic chords and bright, crackling chorales Kholodenko portrayed the conflict of light versus dark, fully captivating the audience.

So too in Liszt’s Tarantella in G minor, Kholodenko drew into full focus the different elements of the two dances—one frenzied, the second galant and courtly—and exploited their contrasts, blending and combinations to great effect with no technical limitations.

Handel’s Suite for Keyboard in B-flat Major, HWV 440, served as a dynamic concert opener that reminds one that the master of opera and oratorio, was equally insightful at the keyboard. The four sections performed are rich in their baroque expressiveness, by turns grand, charming, and plaintive.

Kholodenko evoked this varied expression with a masterful control that encompassed crisp refined rolls and florid ornamentations. His approach to dynamics was period-influenced, respecting the original instrumentation for harpsichord, rather than the Bösendorfer grand he was playing. 

His touch was in fact so refined that the piano seemed to more resemble the timbre of a harpsichord, which added tremendously to the interpretation. Particularly special was the intimacy which was brought out in the Sarabande—an unhurried sauntering in the right hand’s melody, making the most of the music’s reflective poignancy.

An immediate change of mood came with Haydn’s Sonata No. 49 in C sharp minor Hob. XVI:20, which hails from the composer’s sturm und drang period. The work thrives on radically shifting moods, minor keys, and dissonant harmonies—in this piece one sees the forceful and passionate style that inspired Beethoven. Kholodenko’s playing was extraordinarily effective, with crisp articulation, a rigorous dynamic palette, and phrasing that prioritized the larger musical ideas.

Beethoven’s Sonata No. 27 in E minor, Op. 90, which followed, occupies a fulcrum point in Beethoven’s output. —in terms of musical language and techniques it belongs to neither his middle or late periods, but somewhere in between. In Kholodenko’s performance one immediately perceives a willingness to savor rich sonorities and resonant chords. In the first movement of the sonata, he deftly connected the music’s expressiveness to Beethoven’s formal, motivic, and thematic ideas in a way that allows for tremendous climaxes and long dramatic arcs.

In the second movement, a cantabile approach to the shaping of melodic line was highly effective, while well-enunciated counter melodies in the inner voices shined through the texture. In one of Beethoven’s most memorable piano melodies, Kholodenko charmed with each return of the rondo’s theme.

The Liszt works that concluded the program were followed by an immediate standing ovation. Kholodenko offered Postlude, a somber encore by Ukrainian composer Artem Lyabovich. This hymn-like work also incorporates simulated bomb blasts, reminding the audience of the war that is still being fought for Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Friends of Chamber Music presents the Ehnes Quartet November 18 at FIU Wertheim Auditorium.

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Wed Oct 25, 2023
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