Arcadi Volodos – Schubert Piano Sonatas E major and G major

Franz Schubert

Piano Sonata in E major (unfinished), D. 157

Piano Sonata in G major, D. 894

Der Muller und der Bach, D 795 #19 (arranged by Franz Liszt)

Arcadi Volodos, piano

Sony Classics 89647
Full Price
Total Time 6358 by Jon Yungkans

This disc should convince even some die-hards that Arcadi Volodos can play with more subtlety than a Mack truck. For anyone who doesnt have that preconception, it should be delightful.

Another complaint about Volodos is that he plays everything like it is Rachmaninoff. Vladimir Horowitz used to get a similar rap, which plays for an ironic parallel. For most of his career, Volodos primary focus has seemed to be channeling Horowitz, playing Volodyas transcriptions and some of the warhorses for which he was well known (Rachnaninoff 3rd and Tchaikovsky 1st concertos). Now the pendulum has swung to Volodos supposedly bad habits being compared to Horowitz’s as well.

From this disc, it looks like a second pendulum has swung back away from Horowitz and, perhaps, toward Volodos’ true mtier. As much as he tried, Horowitz could never play Schubert convincingly. Volodos takes to it as though born to it, and perhaps he was. Raised in a family of singers and trained as such before turning to the keyboard, Volodos plays these two sonatas not only persuasively, but as though he has had a long an intimate association with their composers writing which of course he has.

He also captures something most pianists, recently, have missed in Schubert’s music : a singing line and cantabile that continually run through the Austrians oeuvre. Essentially, Schubert was incapable of writing anything that wasn’t a song without words both a blessing and a bane for the composer that grew as his days on the planet shortened. Like Schubert, Volodos cannot escape from playing as though he is singing at the keyboard, not just in his legato but also in phrasing, inflection, and subtle, flowing gradations of color and shadow. This is not blessing and curse, though. This is pure rapture from beginning to end.

As for any Horowitz-isms, there are some overly emphasized accents in the opening movement of the E major sonata, D 157, but far fewer than Volodyas. On the whole, Volodos treats this piece with Haydnesque playfulness and charm (another irony since Horowitz was much better in Haydn than in Mozart). With the G major sonata, D 894, comparisons with Sviatoslav Richter are inevitable. Like Richter, Volodos takes his time too much time, some would complain to allow the vistas to unfold in all their beauty, majesty and, later, terror. But with Volodos, the tragedy is more finely shaded than Richter’s, hinted at rather than overtly stated, making it more insidious when it comes around the next harmonic turn and to creep more tellingly into our consciousness as we hear what it taking place. As finely crafted drama as well as music, it is extremely effective. Now if Volodos would increase his Schubert offerings with more gems like these.

Unfortunately, as the liner notes point out, this was the final recording to be made in the Vienna Sofiensaal before it was destroyed in a fire in August 2001. A hall with a long musical history (Johann Strauss Jr. presented ballroom evenings with his orchestra there, some of which Brahms may have attended), it was noted for its excellent acoustics and round, warm sound. A sad postscript, but at least with this beautiful tribute a fitting musical epitaph remains.

Read about Volodos in a recent concert here

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