John Frayne: Ukrainian pianist is tops on my Liszt

John Frayne: Ukrainian pianist is tops on my Liszt

On April 6, the Sunday Salon series at the Foellinger Great Hall featured a piano recital by the Ukrainian-born Vadym Kholodenko.

This greatly gifted pianist was the gold medal winner at the 14th Van Cliburn competition.

On the basis of his phenomenal playing at the April 6 concert, it is easy to see why he triumphed at the Van Cliburn competition. And, with the proviso that winning the competition does not guarantee further success, Kholodenko's talents and his insightful musicianship augur well that his will be a long and triumphant career.

His program was clearly the indication of his seriousness as an artist and his high goals and ambitions.

The first half of the concert was devoted to six pieces by Franz Liszt. The second half was mostly given over to all 24 Preludes of Frederic Chopin's Opus 28.

All the Liszt pieces on the first part of the program were from the composer's three-part collection called "Years of Pilgrimage," based upon Liszt's travels through Switzerland and Italy, mostly in the 1830s.

The opening works, "Sonnets Nos. 104 and 123" were inspired by the sonnets of the Florentine poet Francesco Petrarca, whose "Sonnets to Laura" served as models for the Renaissance cult of romantic love.

Kholodenko played No. 104 slowly, spinning out the long melody like a bell canto aria by Vincenzo Bellini. The effect was spellbinding. The "Sonnet No. 123" was more varied in emotive tones, ending in a lovely lingering echo.

Among the other Liszt pieces, Kholodenko evoked a riot of watery sounds and colors in "Au bord d'une source" ("Beside a Spring"). The watery motif was amplified in what I regard as the masterpiece of the group, "Les Jeux d'eaux la Villa d'Este" ("The Fountains at the Villa d'Este"), wherein this pianist managed beautifully the transition from quasi-impressionistic water effects to an exciting climax.

The concluding work of the Liszt group was the "Hungarian Rhapsody No. 19." It was in this piece that Kholodenko displayed the summit of his virtuoso powers. But amid the thundering scales of this tumultuous piece, I was less impressed by this example of Lisztian sound and fury. The audience reaction to this Rhapsody and the earlier pieces was very strong positive applause.

In the second half, after a sensitive and dramatic playing of Chopin's "Barcarolle in F sharp Minor," Kholodenko launched into what seemed to this listener a near heroic feat, that of playing the whole series of Chopin's "24 Preludes, Opus 28."

Played end-to-end, these preludes present formidable technical challenges, but more importantly offer a kaleidoscope of dramatically shifting emotions and moods. Kholodenko had the technique to leap easily over these challenges. What was more impressive was his ability to convey the emotive depths of these pieces.

Amid such riches of Chopin's genius, the "Prelude No. 15, Rain Drop," stood out, deserving its fame. At the end of the intensely dramatic "Prelude No. 24 in D Minor" the audience on stage leapt to their feet and cheered.

As encore, Kholodenko played a very quiet piece, with water effects, which he told me backstage was called "3" by the young composer Vladislava Buchko, who can be seen performing on YouTube music that strongly resembles this encore.

My one piece of advice to Kholodenko would be, "Give yourself, and your audience, a break. Arrange your pieces into smaller groups, especially in one part of your program. Playing for 40 minutes straight may not exhaust you, but your listeners need a few moments to relax their concentration."

John Frayne hosts "Classics of the Phonograph" on Saturdays at WILL-FM and, in retirement, teaches at the University of Illinois. He can be reached at

Topics (1):Music