A native of Kiev, Ukraine (currently a good place to be from), Vadym Kholodenko, the latest gold medalist of the Van Cliburn Piano Competition, gave an all Romantic-period recital here on Sunday afternoon. As has been its recent tendency in this series, the IHC's Basile Theater was once again sold out. The first half was dominated by Rachmaninoff's lengthy, imposing and largely unknown Piano Sonata No. 1 in D Minor, Op. 28 (1907). Following intermission Kholodenko played all of the much more familiar 24 Preludes, Op. 28, of Chopin.
The sensation of length in the Rachmaninoff Sonata is partly due to its discursive writing: all the composer's stylistic familiarities caught up in a work lacking any of the arresting tunes, harmonic progressions or feelings of inevitability which dominate the composer's middle two piano concertos and his middle symphony. We just heard display for its own sake. True to form, Rach did provide at the sonata's end a couple of quotes of the Dies Irae plain chant, a trademark within a number of his compositions; the figure must have obsessed him (as it had Liszt and Berlioz).
It was a delight to hear once again the 24 Chopin Preludes, which cover, in order of the "circle of fifths," all 12 keys of the chromatic scale, mixing those in the major keys with their respective relative minors (e.g. C major, A minor, G major, E minor, D major, B minor). They in turn virtually cover the gamut of pianistic expression, from the starkly brief simplicity of No. 7 in A major--a grade-school student work--to the exquisite, stormy and lengthy "Raindrop" Prelude, No. 15 in D-flat major, a miniature tone poem.
For some reason, Kholodenko better showed his talents in the Chopin pieces, though the Rachmaninoff surely was every bit as difficult. His leaning on the pedal detracted more from the sonata's emotional impact, especially in its loud passages, whereas we heard every note in context with the Chopin. Those employing the pedal more lightly bring out how the player is handling those notes, their expressive shades, etc. A recent ISO guest soloist sparkled more in her playing, for example.
Our guest offered two encores, neither of which I knew (are critics supposed to know the whole classical repertoire by heart?). But a veteran piano teacher seated with me suggested Scriabin for the first encore. I now assert that it was his Prelude and Nocturne for the Left Hand, Op. 9. We both came up with Liszt for the second encore though neither of us knew which Liszt. I suggest it was an excerpt from one of his "Years of Pilgrimage" sets. To anyone who knows for sure what they are, feel free to comment below. March 16; Indiana History Center