Volodos – Tchaikovsky No.1 (Sony)

0 of 5 stars

Piano Concerto No.1 in B flat minor, Op.23 *
Daisies, Op.38/3
Mélodie in E, Op.3/3
Moment Musical in E flat minor, Op.16/2
Oriental Sketch
Prelude in G flat, Op.23/10
Prelude in G, Op.32/5
Concert Paraphrase on Polka italienne

Arcadi Volodos (piano)

Berliner Philharmoniker
Seiji Ozawa *

Concerto recorded live in the Philharmonie, Berlin in June 2002; solo works recorded in April 2003 at the Scoring Stage, Berlin

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: February 2004
SH 93067 (CD/SACD)

Mixed feelings about this one, not least the famous opening of the Tchaikovsky – the Berlin horns are more snarling than golden, and Volodos does a caricature of a barnstorming virtuoso. There are moments throughout when one recoils at the pianist’s brazen attack.

Yet, there is no doubting that Volodos has a quite remarkable technical facility – one listens open-mouthed at some of his accomplishment. And it’s not all ’in your face’ – Volodos does have a range of dynamics, he can play intimately and tenderly, he can accommodate and dialogue with the orchestra (Ozawa and the Berlin Philharmonic lively and co-operative), and he can produce the most rounded tone and lyrically curving phrases. Yet it’s Volodos’s sheer wizardry that is the most memorable feature – not always fondly remembered, for there is an element of calculation, the notes sometimes no more than a vehicle for display.

It’s a shame that the booklet fails to record each track’s timing. You might like to know that the concerto’s three movements breeze by as follows: 19’15”, 6’40”, and (excluding applause) 6’20”.

In the 20 minutes’ of solo works, there’s no doubting (again) the sorcery at work, and one recognises, sometimes with gratification, that Volodos is a pianist with an appreciation of past masters in terms of flexibility and individuality, save that such things have to be intrinsic rather than applied. Volodos isn’t above effecting things. The rippling delicacy of the G major Prelude (Op.32/5) is breathtaking in its quietude; yet, even here, a lurching of dynamics reminds of less likeable features of Volodos’s playing, such as in the Oriental Sketch, which thunders, the treble at the close pinging and the sustaining pedal inflating the texture.

Volodos’s finger-twisting and foot-tapping arrangement is a piece of frippery, not without wit; it raises the spirits until at the end Volodos can’t resist a full-frontal assault on the eardrums. As I said: mixed feelings.

The sound is tangible and well-balanced in the concerto, and more spacious in the solo pieces; there’s not much between the CD and SACD (2-channel) formats, the latter being slightly freer and warmer.

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