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GRIEG: Piano Concerto in a minor; SAINT-SAENS: Piano Concerto No. 2 – Vadym Kholodenko, p./ The Norwegian Radio Orch./ Miguel Harth-Bedoya – Harmonia mundi

GRIEG: Piano Concerto in a minor, Op. 16; SAINT-SAENS: Piano Concerto No. 2 in g minor, Op. 22 – Vadym Kholodenko, p./ The Norwegian Radio Orch./ Miguel Harth-Bedoya – Harmonia mundi HMU 907629, (8/14/15) 54:22 ****:

Van Cliburn Competition Gold Medal winner for 2013, Vadym Kholodenko, engages the music of Grieg and Saint-Saens for his second issue (rec. August-September 2014 at NRK Store Studio, Oslo) for Harmonia mundi.  Kholodenko and conductor Harth-Bedoya seem intent on lavishing every possible interior nuance upon the most perfect of all piano concertos, Grieg’s 1869 Concerto in a minor.   Not that the lyrical-melodic tissue becomes over-wrought in this collaboration: the more fleet passages moved with arched grace always to the point of the next period. What consistently remains marvelous in the Grieg revolves around the eternal freshness of the intrinsically folk impulses, here set in controlled sonata-form. In the first movement cadenza, Kholodenko indulges his piano tone and coaxes the febrile counterpoints through a silken technical control of tremolando, octave, and arpeggiated figures. The Norwegian Radio Orchestra obviously needs few reminders of the composer’s sensitivity to color tissue. The transition from solo cadenza to the orchestral contribution to the coda combines quietude, serenity and singular poise.

Whatever of solitude and intimacy one wishes from the D-flat Adagio Kholodenko and Harth-Bedoya provide in tender, harmonic colors, the melodic tissue’s seeming to arise out of an azure, blue sky. The cello line rises into the woodwinds and French horn while the keyboard luxuriates in the climax of the main idea that dissolves back into a pearly aether. Buoyancy and folk wisdom should inform the last movement’s two main motifs, the halling and the astonishing flute melody.  Kholodenko injects a playful authority into the former and a grandly lyrical sense of line into the latter in F Major. The brass section of the Norwegian Radio proves itself hearty and persuasive, as required in the outside sections of the dance, with the later transformation of the rhythm into ¾ when A Major dominates. Some deft fiddle playing in the last pages help to color the exquisite ensemble with a sense of apotheosis remarkable even in the glut of so many performances of this essential concerto.

The 1868 Saint-Saens Second Concerto – opening with Bach and concluding with Offenbach –  has consistently provided a splendid bravura vehicle for virtuoso pianists. Its quasi-fantasia opening cadenza sets of a tone authority and classical severity tempered by glib coloration after the orchestra enters. Each of the three movements marks an acceleration of tempo; and in the E-flat Major Allegro scherzando second movement we hear the Saint-Saens (tympani-led) approach to Chopin’s E Major Scherzo.  The deliberate and graduated colors of this pairing of Kholodenko and Harth-Bedoya may recall for some the fine impression fellow Russian pianist  Grigory Sokolov made more than a generation ago in his recording with Neeme Jarvi.  The even flux of the later cadenza takes us seamlessly into the woodwind response that leads, cyclically, to the first movement coda.  After an appropriately light-handed second movement, Kholodenko launches into the acrobatic alla breve Presto, a whirlwind tarantella whose light or percussive feet often become a blur.  The deft transitions in and out of duple time tax both soloist and conductor but evidently without any sense of strain. The excellent sonic image has been well captured by recording engineer Morten Hermansen.

—Gary Lemco

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