Coming back to London, I was very much looking forward to Arcadi Volodos's Royal Festival Hall recital this evening. The programme -- Schubert's remarkable D.784 Sonata, Brahms's Op. 117 Intermezzi and Liszt's B-minor Sonata -- was intriguing, if a little diffuse in focus. And I'd been enormously impressed with Volodos's performance of the Liszt in Dresden just over a year ago. However, while the work on that occasion seemed to be driven forward by an inexorable force that seemed to impose on it some irresistible logic, here Volodos seemed interpretatively at sea.
The technique, unsurprisingly, was dazzling and the apparent ease with which he negotiated the work's technical challenges was often breathtaking. However, such facility seemed to bring with it interpretative issues. I've made a similar point when referring to his Brahms second Piano Concerto earlier in the year, wondering whether or not technical hurdles necessitate certain interpretative choices when effort is required to negotiate them; here, certainly, there was a sense that the facility had left something of a void which Volodos struggled to fill . Bass octaves, therefore, thundered arbitrarily away, passage work was dispatched with special twinkly brilliance in a beguiling pianissimo, voicing was exquisitely measured; but none of it communicated any greater purpose to me. Perhaps most telling was the unnatural and unconvincing rubato that marred the sonata's more improvisatory passages. Dazzling? yes, in its way. Compelling? no.
Despite some pretty shabby behaviour from the audience -- an alarm going off half way through the Liszt, someone yelling a 'bravo' at the close before Volodos had relaxed and raised his hands from the keyboard -- the pianist provided a generous clutch of encores, finishing with the same strange, wonderful Schubert Minuet D. 600 he'd played after the Brahms concerto. It was preceded by the shameless showiness of his own transcription of Ernesto Lecuona's 'Malegueña', as below.
I remember when Volodos first arrived on the scene with his stunning disc of virtuoso transcriptions -- his version of the Mozart's Rondo 'alla turca' seemed to revive the much-maligned genre. Then, there was a certain doubt as to the depth of his musicianship beneath the spectacular surface. Now, with this recital some 15 years later, that spectacular surface once again obscured what might -- and, I believe, does -- lie below.