Arcadi Volodos at Royal Festival Hall

Piano Sonata in A minor, D784
Three Intermezzos, Op.117
Piano Sonata in B minor

Arcadi Volodos (piano)

Reviewed by: Francesco Burns

Reviewed: 22 May, 2012
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Arcadi Volodos. Photograph: www.volodos.deVolodos giving a recital in London is a rare event. As with the Law of Sod, it was “signalling problems” courtesy of South West Trains which prevented me from arriving on time and missing the Schubert.

I made it for the opening Andante of Brahms’s Intermezzos. The main theme was so perfectly shaped that it was almost as if one were witnessing a singer. With Volodos pianissimos are so extreme yet they project and have body. The second Intermezzo can easily sag; on this occasion it seemed as if it ended too soon. That melancholy figure which opens and reappears throughout the work was tinged with sadness, stretched just the right amount with rubato, and giving way to the more insistent but similar mood of the final piece. After the last chord Volodos dared the audience to stay silent for what was probably thirty seconds but seemed like minutes, a brilliant touch which is becoming rarer and rarer; and what was to come after the interval required something quiet to precede it.

As wonderful a work as it is, Liszt’s Piano Sonata is overplayed. There are no superlatives that could do justice to this staggering performance however. I have never heard the opening Gs so quiet. There are moments where it is de rigueur to carry on a forte here or employ legato there. Volodos however would suddenly insert a piano dynamic or a staccato in a passage where it really isn’t expected, creating small arcs within arcs – it’s so incredibly daring to take liberties like this, but architecturally it worked and made the performance so exciting. There are passages where even pianists with fine techniques have to sacrifice some musical intention in order to navigate properly – Volodos doesn’t have this problem, allowing musicianship to be the first and foremost priority: virtuosity is a conduit to his musicality. The highlight of the performance was the descending scales of the second section (Andante sostenuto – quasi Adagio): the touch was so extremely well placed it defied what one feels is possible. Alongside the variety of weight and shading employed were splashes of the demonic virtuosity Volodos is capable of – yet it never became crude or self-indulgent. This is the magic of Volodos: one is confronted with an experience outside of the piano, a rare feat in the post-‘golden age’ of pianism. Despite the final silence being unnecessarily interrupted by an over-enthusiastic “bravo”, this was in many ways a perfect performance.

There were four encores, continuing with Liszt in a sweet En Rêve. Then a transcription by Volodos of Mompou’s Solo las flores sobre ti – employing a new-found sense of inner lines and counterpoint – fantastic stuff. Those hoping for the Volodos’s dazzling virtuosity got it in a transcription of Lecuona’s Malagueña followed by a simple, delicate Schubert Minuet.

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