Vadym Kholodenko: Gold Medalist = STRAVINSKY: Trois mouvements de Petrouchka; LISZT: 12 Transcendental Etudes – Vadym Kholodenko, piano – Harmonia mundi HMU 907605, 75:41 (11/12/13) ****:
Vadym Kholodenko (b. 1986), the Ukranian-born Gold Medal Winner at the Fourteenth Van Cliburn International Competition in Fort Worth, has his superb artistry captured in this compilation disc of performances given May 24-9 June 2013 at Bass Performance Hall. Two composers comprise this sonically robust display, Stravinsky and Liszt, but the range of musicality and instrumental color, provided in ample permutations through the Liszt etudes, more than compensates for the “limited” choice of repertory.
Kholodenko opens with the 1921 keyboard arrangement by Stravinsky for friend Artur Rubinstein of scenes from the composer’s 1913 ballet Petrouchka. Too often, these brilliant toccatas devolve into mere studies in grades of percussion, but Kholodenko evokes all of the keyboard’s color vitality in the course of the chosen scenes: the “Russian Dance,” in which the puppet comes to life among “diabolical cascades of arpeggio”; the lonely musing behind the show curtains; and the spectacular eddies of sound in the Mardi Gras atmosphere of the fairgrounds. The last begins with haunting, clarion tones and pedal point, the layered colors the very envy of church bells. Out of the welter of vibrant rhythmic cells, the main melody emerges like a bird or rainbow in luxurious song. Not that Kholodenko lacks the requisite nitroglycerin for the explosive chords and jabbing accents that the composer flings at us: the rockets, glissandos, pentatonic scales, and fiery runs combine in an alchemical momentum that quite sweeps us – and his zealous Fort Worth audience – away.
The 1852 set of Transcendental Etudes of Franz Liszt demonically fuse technical bravura and ecstatic poetry, as is Liszt’s wont. Due to the time constraints on performers at the Cliburn Competition, Kholodenko omitted the No. 9 Etude, Ricordanza, from his live recital, The gap has been filled by a 2008 inscription from Moscow’s State TV and Radio Broadcasting Company. The opening C Major Preludio announces both Liszt and Kholodenko’s intention to stagger the ear and the imagination with wicked flourishes and uncanny leger de main. With the A Minor Molto vivace we know we submit to the accelerated grip of a titanic musical force. But the poet Kholodenko reveals himself in the F Major Paysage, an ardent tribute to the landscape of late Romantic and Impressionist painters. Perhaps not since Moritz Rosenthal, Gyorgy Cziffra, Lazar Berman, and Jorge Bolet have we encountered the pianistic titan who swallows Mazeppa (after Victor Hugo) in the one gulp with which Kholodenko consumes its heroic d minor minor convulsions, nostalgic reminiscences, and chromatic variations.
From grueling drama Kholodenko proceeds to capricious, imaginary fairyland, with Feux follets in B-flat Minor, a grueling toccata in double-note wrist articulation. The aerial acrobatics of this persuasive realization often raised the canny specter of the late Simone Barere in my musical recall. Almost a Gothic narrative, Vision in G Minor anticipates the dark side of Rachmaninov. The stratified arpeggios and tremolos, not quite singing the Dies Irae, mount to a compelling and assertive series of octaves. In Beethoven’s own key of E-flat Major, Liszt’s Eroica Etude marches with strident confidence in repeated octaves, executed with lithe detachment by Kholodenko. More than once, Kholodenko establishes a sound that unites this etude with the Paganini studies of Liszt. The move to the relative C Minor invokes the Wilde Jagd, a Presto furioso chase scene that virtually moves in hallucinatory speeds, a quality Kholodenko shares with another brilliant Russian purveyor of these opera, Vladimir Ovchinnikov.
Ferruccio Busoni once described the Ricordanza (Andantino) Etude in D Major as “a packet of yellow love letters.” Kholodenko’s 2008 recording from Moscow conveys wistful reminiscence in powder, paint, and scented flowers. The poetically gossamer runs and trills Kholodenko realizes could be a tone-poem in raindrops or tears, a distinction without a difference. Like Chopin, Liszt has a special tempest in mind for F Minor, so his Etude “Allegro agitato molto” asks Kholodenko to demonstrate any number of virile, sweeping gestures across the keyboard while maintaining a passionate upsurge of melody. Prefiguring Debussy – especially his The Sunken Cathedral – Harmonies du Soir proceeds orchestral in a narrative-style in D-flat Major, an ardent nocturne or ballade that allows us to speculate what equally smoldering passion Kholodenko will in fact bring to Debussy and Faure. Liszt has Khoodenko depict an icy snowstorm in the B-flat Minor Chasse-neige, whose series of Herculean tremolandi call forth the dual aspect of Mother Nature in all her splendid ferocity. Listening to Kholodenko, we can literally see Cathy and Heathcliff urge each other to their secret promontory to declare their love in the midst of the mortal storm. Listen to the whoops from that Fort Worth audience!