Monday, October 21, 2013

Vadym Kholodenko: Catching greatness on the wing

Twice in my life, I've seen a 27-year-old pianist who had won a major competition, had yet to achieve worldwide fame and took my breath away.

The first time was in 1975, when Murray Perahia played Chopin's First Piano Concerto at Duke University. He has since been showered with too many accolades to count and remains one of the greatest living keyboard artists. The second time was Friday night at Central Piedmont Community College, when Vadym Kholodenko played the second gig in the Charlotte Concerts season.

They'd booked him into Halton Theater because he won the gold medal at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition this year. Here's a video of his recital at the Cliburn, which includes the performance of Stravinsky that showed up (along with Liszt) on his solo debut album from Harmonia Mundi:

If you missed Kholodenko, you missed a poet. He sustained the long, wandering melodies of Rachmaninov's First Piano Sonata for 40 minutes, an achievement most pianists wouldn't attempt. (Pretty much everyone goes for the more structured and concise Second Sonata.)

After the break, he played a series of Rachmaninov transcriptions: pieces by Bach, Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, Bizet and others. His traversal of Rachmaninov's adaptation of themes from "Carmen," now sensuous and now thunderous, left the audience hollering in approval.

Like Perahia, he seems to be shy: He nodded briefly during the applause between pieces, sometimes not even rising for a bow. He talked only to introduce two encores -- the Bizet and something I didn't recognize -- but his mumbles didn't reach row N, where I sat. He spoke through his keyboard, from a whisper through a roar, and said all he needed to say.