Tuesday, November 22, 2022

A Most Welcomed Return

When an artist made a staggering first impression, as Zlata Chochieva did when she first played in Vancouver, expectations are high when she or he makes a return appearance. I am happy to report that Chochieva’s recital last Sunday confirmed that her artistry is still as wondrous as ever. Indeed, she has, if anything, matured as an artist and as a musician.


Her recital programme is a re-creation of the works she recorded on her most recent CD of works by Mozart and Scriabin – two very different and contrasting sound worlds. None of the works played were pieces that appear time and again in piano recitals, which makes for a very refreshing change from the sameness that we sometimes see in programming. 


In the two sets of variations by Mozart – Nine Variations on a Minuet by Duport (K. 573) and Ten Variations on “Unser dummer Pobel meint” (C. W. Cluck) (K. 455) – she played Mozart with a firm grasp of the operatic nature of the composer’s music. Figaro, Susanna, Leporello, Despina, and a host of other characters came alive in front of our mind’s eyes. There was nothing “pretty” or precious about her approach to this music, as every phrase was filled with energy and colour. Every phrase, every musical gesture, was delivered with the grace and panache of a prima ballerina. Moreover, she has an uncanny sense of timing both within each variation, in the evolution from one variation to the next, as well as each variation within the context of the entire structure.


Stylistically, the two sets of Preludes by Scriabin, Op. 15 and Op. 16, were still composed with a firm nod to the past, most notably to the music of Chopin, whom Scriabin adored. Chochieva approached these miniatures like a visual artist, painting before us the infinite variety of sound colours that the composer must have had in mind when putting notes to paper. One is reminded that Scriabin had a great interest, indeed obsession with, colour and sound. This wonderful artist was able to coax a gorgeous range of sounds from the piano, very much highlighting the sensual beauty of Scriabin’s music.


It is truly astounding to hear Scriabin’s evolution as a composer when a work such as the Sonata No. 3 in F-sharp minor (Op. 23) was juxtaposed against the truly forward-looking Sonata No. 10 (Op. 70). While the large-scale, highly dramatic third sonata is still firmly rooted in the 19th century, the chromaticism and tonal ambiguity of the tenth sonata truly looks far beyond the 20thcentury. Pianistically and musically, Chochieva delivered both works with great panache. She infused the third sonata with a sense of unity in the four disparate and contrasting movements, and highlighted the concentration of expression of the tenth sonata. In both works, she gave us all the sound colours the composer must have had in mind when composing these works. 


As if trying to dispel the ambiguous atmosphere of Scriabin’s tenth sonata, Chochieva brought her recital to a far more lighthearted conclusion with Mozart’s Gigue in G major (K. 574) which, along with the K. 522 A Musical Joke, are probably two of the composer’s most hilarious works. It is often easier to convey sadness than joy in music, but Chochieva succeeded in communicating to the audience all the humour inherent in this brief work.


This mood of charm and joy continued in the encore she played, the Toccata by French pianist, teacher and composer Pierre Sancan. The young artist delivered with stunning pianism – and at the most daring tempo – as well as with the Gallic charm and flavour called for by this music.


All in all, a truly spectacular showcase of pianism and musicianship. Along with Vadym Kholodenko’s stunning debut, we had truly been fortunate to have experienced two of today’s most interesting young artists within a fortnight. I am of course mindful of Sir Andras Schiff’s recent pair of masterful recitals, but with performances such as we had from Kholodenko and Chochieva’s, we are reminded that the future of great music is indeed in very good hands.

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

An Astounding Debut

In his Vancouver debut, Vadym Kholodenko played a magical performance for an enthralled audience last night.


The concert began with Prokofievs rarely played Four Pieces, Op. 32, the composers whimsical look at baroque and classical dance forms. Right from the first notes, I realized that we were in for something special. Kholodenko highlighted the composers gentle, sardonic humour in the four miniatures, but also drew from the Steinway colours, timbre and sounds rarely heard. Throughout the evening, there was a sense of fantasy, of incredible imagination, in his playing.


In SchubertSonata in E-flat major, D. 568, Kholodenko brought out all the songfulness called for by the music with an overflowing and palpable musicality. In this work, and in all the pieces he played last evening, there was a glow and a luminosity in his sound that I do not often hear. In the Andante molto movement, the sadness and heartbreak of the music was very much evident. 


More Schubert followed after the intermission, with the composers beautiful Drei Klavierstucke, D. 946. While bringing out the unique character of each of the three works, the artist also managed to convey a sense of unity, as if the three pieces constituted part of a larger construction. I have to say once again that Kholodenko drew truly wonderous sounds from the piano. To my mind, I have not ever heard such pianissimos as we did last evening  no matter how softly he was playing, every note was projected to the very last row of the hall. Moreover, it was a sound that drew the listener in, drawing him or her into a very private sound world. In the second work in E-flat major, the artist played it almost like a lullaby, with a gently rocking quality and, toward the end, allowing the music to drift away almost to nothingness. It was truly imaginative, courageous, daring playing, but it was, again, sheer magic.


Kholodenko saved the fireworks for the last work of the evening, Prokofievs 1942 Sonata No. 7 in B-flat major, Op. 83, one of the composers so-called war sonatas. It was a performance that brought out the kaleidoscopic colours of the piano, and more. From the scintillating opening of the 1st movement, to the bleak and desolate soundscape of the middle movement, to the almost delirious joy of the third, the artist took us on a thrilling and breathtaking ride through an incredible soundscape. In some of the massive chords of the 1st movement, his voicing of these chords gave them a sense of massiveness. The element of fantasy I mentioned earlier was again palpable here. In the third movement, Kholodenkos sense of the pulse of the music was uncanny. When pianist Vladimir Howowitz sent the composer of his recording of the 7th Sonata, Prokofiev sent in return a copy of the score, inscribed, To the miraculous pianist, from the composer. It would no exaggeration to say, after last evenings performance, that we were in the presence of a miraculous pianist.


The pianist graciously spoke to the audience after the performance and announced his one encore, a bagatelle by Ukrainian composer Valentyn Silvestrov, and proceeded to give a moving performance of this gentle work, perhaps a very personal response to the great tragedy that had befallen his home country.


Vadym Kholodenkos performance last night was a truly auspicious debut by any artist in a long time. The sounds he drew from the piano will haunt me for a long time to come.