Arcadi Volodos - Philharmonie Berlin, 8 March 2009
Scriabin Etude in F sharp major Op.42 No. 3, Prelude in B flat minor Op.37 No. 1, Prelude in B flat minor Op.11 No. 16, Dance languide Op.51 No. 4, Two Dances: Flammes sombres, Guirlandes Op.73, Sonata No. 7 "White Mass" Ravel Valses nobles et sentimentales Schumann Waldszenen Liszt Après une lecture de Dante, Fantasia quasi sonata
Arcadi Volodos hasn't visited London for a while, but he can sell a thousand seats in Berlin, no problem. There was plenty of enthusiastic ovating all round, though for me this concert didn't really take off until some way through the second half.
His opening Scriabin selection were cleverly juxtaposed so that he was able to run them together without any breaks. Unfortunately, this served mainly to expose the limitations in his expressive range, bathing everything in the same rhapsodic impressionistic gloss. His posture - head flung back, costive grimace - seemed more a substitute for real engagement than an expression of it. Then he managed to make Ravel sound like Scriabin (or was it vice-versa?) - technically an achievement I suppose. It was so frustrating to listen to that phenomenal technique, all the strength, control, and accuracy any pianist would kill for, employed in such a banal fashion.
And I thought the Schumann Waldszenen would be more of the same, but with the seventh of the ninth little pieces, the curious, elliptical Vogel als Prophet, Volodos finally blossomed. He stopped performing and started just playing. Liszt's Dante Sonata showed him at his very best, its fire and brimstone tamed by his velvet touch. And his extraordinary technical facility meant he was never simply struggling to grab the right notes. It gave an inkling of what differentiated Liszt himself from his contemporaries as a pianist - the fluidity and ease, the disappearance of technical barriers to pure expression. This wasn't hard work for Volodos - in fact it barely sounded like work at all. Just a guy and a piano.