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Notes from the 2010 Salzburg Festival ( 10 ) Arcadi

Recital 6 - Arcadi Volodos

Krystian Zimerman’s name once stood for great art, rarified occasions of intelligent musicianship. But a few more cancellations, aborted projects, and inane political speeches and he runs the risk of joining the circle of dysfunctional geniuses/madcaps (C.Kleiber, I.Pogorelich, G.Gould, et al.). In the case of his cancelling both his Salzburg appearances—a Chopin recital and a chamber concert with the Hagen Quartet that was to include Grażina Bacewicz’s Piano Quintet (where is that Bacewicz recording Zimerman promised us?)—I actually believe that he is sick and genuinely sorry to miss them. That doesn’t change the fact that no one is really surprised that he did cancel.

When I heard that Arcadi Volodos would replace him for the recital, I got interested, with hearsay of recent Volodos recitals having been great and my not having seen him live since a recital a decade ago, when he impressed the heck out of me. The program was made up of Mompou, Albéniz, and Schumann. It’s good to hear Mompou (‘the better Satie’) from a pianist of Volodos’ caliber and at a high-profile occasion like this. Played with care and without perfume, trying not to make more out of the Scénes d’enfants than they are, Volodos opened the recital on a skillfully-somber note, without perhaps gaining as many new friends for Mompou as would have been possible and desirable.

Albéniz’ Seguidillas (op.232/5), Córdoba (op.232/4), Zambra granadina, and La Vega (from the Alhambra Suite) offered a furious flurry of notes without particularly lasting impressions (Seguidillas), original restrain (Córdoba), and a dreamy, almost sedate milking of La Vega. Schumann’s Humoreske was the highlight of the regular program, with the first half having a continuous arch, Volodos employing a soft touch that belies his animalistic piano playing style (and one that would have suited the Mompou quite well). His Schumann was never ‘simple’, even where the composer specifically asks for “Einfach”, but then always very beautifully caressed, instead. Subtle sparks and dense playing were followed by tenderness until at some point, while Volodos wriggled on his chair like a wounded sea lion around the Innig movement, one of us got lost.

Except for the finale of the Humoresque, which was unabashedly rocking Schumann, I heard little more than a haze of randomness in the playing. That description also fit the rest of the recital, Schumann’s Faschingsschwank aus Wien (Carnival Scenes from Vienna, op.26, not to be mistaken with the op.9 Carnaval) which had very little carnival atmosphere about it. It revealed what had made the entire recital less than brilliant and less enjoyable than it was impressive, namely that Volodos’ playing was, for all the loud and soft here and there, one elongated, gentle, unwavering scream. The fact that the headlong Intermezzo proved that “too fast” is a category unknown to Volodos did little to change that. What did change that impression was the second of two Mompou encores—finally a piece in which Volodos let loose—and the (surprisingly?) wonderful, tasteful Bach-Vivaldi Sicilienne (BWV 596) that capped the evening at the Grosse Festspielhaus.

Photo courtesy Salzburger Festspiele, © Silvia Lelli