Schubert: Piano Sonata in A minor, D. 784
Brahms: Drei Intermezzi, op. 117
Liszt: Piano Sonata in B minor, S. 178
Has Arcadi Volodos decided yet what kind of pianist he wants to be when he grows up? His playing was never without its depths, but has steadily been acquiring greater introspection as of late, and he’s now inclined to dismiss the flashy 1997 debut recording which launched his career. That’s all very well, but in this recital I thought he struggled to reconcile his growing seriousness of purpose with the vestiges of virtuosity that have yet to be shaken off if he ever decides to go the full Lupu.
I mention Lupu because at times this felt like a tribute act, with Volodos reclining into his straight-backed chair, his centre of gravity removed from the keyboard and everything coming from the fingertips. A considerable deftness to the touch ensued: at turns, Volodos draped the sound in velvet, made his melodic lines glisten and sing, and pulled off the most improbable of sudden decrescendi with apparent ease. If that wasn’t always exploited to compelling musical ends it’s because he was too concerned with shaping the phrase at hand to contemplate larger expressive plans. The opening of Brahms’s op. 117 no. 2 wasn’t played so haltingly, but the self-containment of those initial statements came close. The five-bar phrases of no. 3 flowed more convincingly, the problem here more the weak regulation of tempi and rubato, with the return of the opening material sounded rather more overwrought than what had come before.
It was, oddly, the Schubert, rather than the Liszt, where the bravura failed to mesh with Volodos’s more deliberative side. The quietly determined focus of the first two movements at first seemed to underpin the insistence of the triplets in the third, but the contrary-motion arpeggios were insufferably glib and octaves at the end rattled off like a Czerny study, their impact as a closing gesture lost.
The Liszt was a strong account, if not one for the ages. I’m inclined to overlook the odd moments of crashing and banging as it was only the four repeated quavers, hammered until metallic, which seemed truly desensitised. The transformation of that theme didn’t work out too persuasively either. Tone in the bass got a bit muddy at times but was generally robust; expression and complexity of touch was, as in the Brahms, left to the right hand. How much sense he made of the work’s mystifying form is debatable, but it wasn’t too linear and proportions didn’t seem so off.