88 piano keys sound like 88 orchestra musicians
Franz Schubert: Four Impromptus D. 899
Ludwig van Beethoven: Sonata c-minor op. 13, “Grande Sonate Pathétique”
Pjotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky: Nutcracker Suite op. 71a (transcription Mikhail Pletnev)
Nikolai Kapustin: Prélude op. 53/13 – Sonata No. 2 E-Major, op. 54
Alexei Volodin (piano)
A. Volodin (© Marco Borggreve)
Pianist Alexei Volodin can be easily regarded as one of the preeminent pianists of our times. Born 1977 in Leningrad, he studied with Irina Chaklina, Tatiana Zelikman and graduated from Elisso Virsaladse’s class at the Moscow Conservatory. He first came to the international limelight when he won the 2003 Geza Anda Piano Competition in Zurich, Switzerland. Since then his career has skyrocketed - and rightly so, as one could witness when he returned to the Vienna Konzerthaus this week.
Volodin opened his recital at the Mozart Hall with an homage to Vienna: Schubert's Four Impromptus D. 899. Alexei Volodin possesses excellent technique, devoid of any kind of cheap show effects. His interpretation of the Impromptus, however, seemed somewhat disassociated from the emotional content of this late Schubert. This was especially evident in the intimate G Flat major Impromptu that sounded austere, and far from Schubert's ‘Weltschmerz’.
If Schubert’s Impromptus seemed at times too sober, Beethoven's ‘Pathétique’ Sonata greatly benefited from Volodin's unsentimental, transparent, yet powerful playing. He seemed to free the score from unnecessary ponderousness. With his predilection for quick tempi, Volodin paid close attention to rhythmical details, managing to bring out a phrase here or a middle voice there, often lost in other interpretations.
The highlight of the evening was undoubtedly Volodin's interpretation of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite in the piano transcription by Mikhail Pletnev. Volodin's colorful, exuberant playing made one completely forget that instead of 88 orchestra musicians, Volodin had only 88 black and white keys at this disposal.
Alexei Volodin dedicated the last part of his Vienna recital to the oeuvre of Kapustin. Ukrainian born composer Nikolai Kapustin has only recently gained recognition, in part thanks to Marc-André Hamelin’s recordings. Kapustin, born 1937, studied piano and composition at the Moscow Conservatory. After graduation he formed a jazz quintet, with which he toured Russia as well as the Western world. The majority of his compositions are for piano and combine strictly classical composition techniques with jazz elements. Before tackling the devilishly difficult Piano Sonata Nr. 2, Volodin played Kapustin’s Prelude op. 53/13, a short composition with even less content. In contrast, the Sonata No. 2, written in 1989, abounded with fresh ideas and positive energy. Alexei Volodin’s engaged playing underlined these merits.
Volodin offered three encores: Rachmaninoff’s Prelude D-Major op. 23/4, Chopin’s Minute Waltz and Chopin’s Nocturne c sharp minor, op. posth., were enthusiastically received. The intimacy he displayed with the Chopin Nocturne would have benefitted the Schubert Impromptus with which he began the evening.