Pianist Kholodenko Scores with Powerful Prokofiev Second Concerto

Vadym Kholodenko [photo (c) Ralph Lauer & The Cliburn International Piano Competition]

Vadym Kholodenko [photo (c) Ralph Lauer & The Cliburn International Piano Competition]

Sometimes the designation “competition winner” is a scarlet letter, a mark denoting that soulless technical wizardry capable of impressing judges without revealing so much as a hint of individuality that could raise an eyebrow or lose a crucial point. I am happy to report that Vadym Kholodenko, first prize winner of the 2013 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, matches his impressive keyboard prowess with probing emotional depth and daring individuality.

His stirring, passionate account of Sergei Prokofiev’s Piano Concerto No 2 in G Minor with the San Diego Symphony this weeked (October 17 – 19) also revealed a musical maturity that is most welcome from this jaunty 28-year-old pianist from Kiev. Choosing the Prokofiev Second Piano Concerto was itself a bold move, considering both the difficulty of the work and its obscurity among most concert-goers.

But Kholodenko won his audience immediately, brandishing ardent themes bathed in lush sonorities from the brooding Andantino that opens Prokofiev’s assertive, four-movment concerto. He dazzled us rendering the relentless moto perpetuo figurations of the Scherzo with alacrity and startling precision, while thematic shards bobbed like whitecaps on a roiling ocean. No matter how dense the chord structures or spikey the harmonies, especially in the third movement Moderato, Kholodenko retained the rich sonority he presented in the calmer, introspective moments of the work.

Music Director Jahja Ling and the orchestra rose to the rugged grandeur of the score, lending an ominous shimmer to the dreamy, sometimes nightmarish slow sections and providing muscular drive to the composer’s mighty climaxes. My own fondness for this seldom programmed concerto was kindled when former Music Director Yoav Talmi and the Russian pianist Vladimir Feltsmann performed it some 20 years ago, the last time the orchestra offered this work. Let’s hope we do not have to wait another 20 years to again encounter this glorious concerto in the Jacobs Music Center’s Copley Symphony Hall!

After the intensity of the Prokofiev Concerto, on Sunday afternoon (Oct. 19) Kholodenko offered a beautifully nuanced performance of the J. S. Bach–Siloti Prelude in B Minor, BWV 855a, as his encore.

Ling opened the concert with Beethoven’s Overture to The Creatures of Prometheus and his austere Fourth Symphony. I found the Overture stately, rather than rousing, and deliberately paced. Ling’s conviction about the Fourth Symphony was evident at every turn. Conducting from memory, his account proved detailed and meticulously thought out, although the third movement, marked Allegro vicace, did not send the pulse racing as it should.

This generous two hours of music would have made a completely well-balanced program, but Ling apparently thought it needed the “Waltz” and “Poloniase” from Tchaikovsky’s opera Eugene Onegin, so he appended them following the Second Piano Concerto. While the orchestra played these familiar segments with radiant precision and a sure sense of their high Romantic style, they could not help seeming redundant after the brilliant Prokofiev Second Concerto.

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