Volodos wildly greeted by Bordeaux pianophiles

by Michael Johnson Michael Johnson is a music writer and critic with special interest in piano. He spent nine years on the board of the London International Piano Competition and has written extensively on music for leading publications, including the International New York Times, Clavier Companion, The Washington Times, American Spectator and the website Facts & Arts. He spent four years in Moscow as a correspondent and also worked as a journalist in Paris, London and New York. 26.11.2015

Pianist Arcadi Volodos, one of the most impressive virtuosos to emerge from the Russian School in the past few decades, captivated a Bordeaux audience last night (Wednesday, Nov. 25) with a program of Brahms and Schubert. The program climaxed with four sparkling encores and a standing ovation. I counted 11 curtain calls.

Volodos thus closed nine days of the annual l’Esprit du Piano festival in Bordeaux that featured Lang Lang as opener Nov. 17 (Please see below for review by Michael Johnson).

Volodos is a modest, mild-mannered, self-effacing performer with a deep intellectual streak. His bear-like physique belies an ability to tease out clear articulation from the keyboard and a lightness of touch that last night easily seduced the music-loving Bordeaux Auditorium crowd.

Arcadi Volodos as seen by the author, Michael Johnson.

He led with the piano adaptation of Brahms’s Theme and Variations in B-minor Op. 18b, based on the original sextet version composed in 1860. Brahms was only 27 at the time, and achieved what is now regarded as one of the pinnacles of chamber repertory. The six variations on a march-like basic line develop from the lyrical to the thunderous.

He followed his opener with more Brahms, the Eight Klavierstücke Op. 76, a study in styles and contrasts. No. 5 is considered one of the most challenging of Brahms’s more concise pieces and the seguë into the sweeter and more lyrical Intermezzo was highly effective in Volodos’s rendering.

Volodos seemed totally at home with the material, perhaps to a fault. His low-key personality is wholly devoted to the music at hand, not the audience.

Part 2 of the recital was different. Schubert’s 45-minute Sonata in B-major D. 960 is a familiar monument to the sonata form with pleasant themes recurring throughout. Volodos seemed more invested in this sonata than in the Brahms, swaying freely on his folding chair (not a bench) as he brought Schubert to life. He showed his individuality most openly in the second movement, the melancholy Andante sostuneto, choosing a tempo so slow that it barely maintained its musical integrity. The audience sat rapt.

The sonata was completed just a few weeks before his death in 1828. Volodos’s program is especially poignant when viewed in the Brahms-Schubert relationship. Schubert was never a raging success in his lifetime but in the decades following his early death his work attracted influential musicians in Vienna. Among the champions of his work was Johannes Brahms.

Volodos is often generous with his audiences and here he spoiled the fans with his lively encores, including one by miniaturist Frederico Mompou, a Catalonian composer whose music Volodos revived in a CD launched two years ago.

The l’Esprit du Piano festival enriches Bordeaux’s musical life quite considerably. This year’s edition featured two other outstanding Russians: Denis Kozhukhin, first prize winner at the Queen Elizabeth Competition in Brussels in  2010, and Elena Bashkirova, daughter of the pianist and pedagogue Dmitri Bashkirov.


An earlier review by Michael Johnson from this year's l’Esprit du Piano festival in Bordeaux: .

Lang Lang gets mixed reception in Bordeaux

by Michael JohnsonAdded 18.11.2015
The Chinese piano sensation Lang Lang left his Bordeaux audience somewhat nonplussed Tuesday night (Nov. 17) by opening his recital with 45 minutes of shallow salon music, Tchaikovsky’s “The Seasons”. The packed Auditorium had expected the usual...

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