You review: Belcea Quartet, Vadym Kholodenko and Matthias Buchholz

Lewis Wolstanholme, Luca G Cubisino and Felicitas Irene Birckenbach report

You review: Belcea Quartet, Vadym Kholodenko and Matthias Buchholz


Pieces for Viola and Piano – Thursday 30 October (Geneva University of Music)

Matthias Buchholz (viola) and Nicholas Rimmer (piano) opened their recital with a skillfully crafted Allegro appassionato by Frank Bridge. The piece evokes an admixture of impressionism and English folk music – the exuberant and expansive sounds were a contrast to the following Lachrymae of Benjamin Britten.

Britten's reflections on the songs of John Dowland, a synthesis of various musical elements with elaborating the variations finishing with the crescendo to the theme of Dowland's ‘If my complaints’, were very sensitively played. Buchholz coaxed a great range of colours from the viola until the piece reached a resolution.

After this meditative opus the two artists turned to Arnold Bax's Viola Sonata. Written for violist Lionel Tertis, it’s one of Bax's greatest and most characteristic works. With its folksong elements and great energy, the piece dominated the first half of the programme.

The second part of the concert featured Shostakovich’s Sonata for Viola and Piano Op. 147, the last piece the composer ever wrote, completed just weeks before his death. It is another work that gives the violist a broad variety of expressions: from gentle cantilenas to explosive wrenching passages in the middle section, contrasted with dry, pointed figures and smooth, seamless passages. The finale is one of the most affecting farewells in music. It quotes Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight’ Sonata in lyric and detached passages and concludes with a peaceful coda when death comes calmly. The viola plays an Orphean lament without ever being larmoyant.

The evening showed a broad spectrum of sounds from the viola, from silvery tones to husky notes and biting pizzicato. The excellent duo responded to each other brilliantly – Rimmer didn't accompany in a narrow sense but as a very sensitive and intelligent counterpart to the soloist. More fine viola music please!

– Felicitas Irene Birckenbach, Cologne



Vadym Kholodenko – Tuesday 4 November (Maurice Gusman Concert Hall, University of Miami)

When you win one of the most important competitions worldwide, it is quite automatic to play demanding masterpieces in the following years to show everyone what you are capable of. That's what one may expect from pianist Vadym Kholodenko who was the Van Cliburn 2013 gold medalist.

But he seems to have skipped this stage, jumping on to the time when a pianist can decide what to play and how. Not only was his program unusual – it included Handel’s Chaconne HWV 435, Mozart’s Rondos K485 and K511, Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 14, No. 2, Debussy’s Children’s Corner and Images II, and Balakirev’s Islamey), but also the sole ‘virtuosic’ piece ­– Balakirev’s Islamey – sounded less virtuosic than the Handel somehow.

It was real music from beginning to end: Kholodenko demonstrated a refined use of the pedal, sophisticated touch, and intelligent dynamic choices. But what stood out the most were the contrasts – between voices (always clear like perspective on 3D layers, and sculpted to reach the end of the hall) and between music and silence. This performer looks to being a visionary who doesn’t merely care about impressing people with his technical abilities.

At only 28 years old, he is without doubt an incredible and courageous artist. That seems rare to find at the moment. During the concert, I found myself thinking 'what is he going to do at 50?'

– Luca G Cubisino



Belcea Quartet –  Tuesday 4 November (Wigmore Hall, London)

The Belcea Quartet (pictured above) brings together musicians from across Europe to perform world-class renditions of quartets old and new, something that was immediately apparent the moment they walked on stage at London's Wigmore Hall.

They opened with a flawless rendition of Mozart’s K590 Quartet, the final quartet he wrote. The precision employed both in terms of dynamics and intonation made for an incredibly enjoyable listening experience.

This was matched by a performance of Brahms’s First Quartet, Op.51, which allowed the Belceas to really show off their textural abilities. There were moments when I thought I was hearing a horn section coming from the second violin and viola, and imitations of a delicate harp when they were all playing pizzicato. This enriched sound world really brought this seemingly-symphonic work to life.

Unfortunately they were let down by moments of rhythmic sloppiness, occasionally in the aforementioned works, but most notably in select movements from Berg’s Lyric Suite, which was sandwiched between the Brahms and the Mozart.

For me, occasional moments during this piece felt quite uneasy and it seemed like it didn’t sit well with the quartet on this particular evening. Berg is notorious for marrying together tone rows, and throwing into the mix motifs that quote other composers. But always between these few-and-far-between moments of weakness there was something dazzling that made this performance memorable; be it the overwhelming accuracy of the first violin’s insane highs, or the pure joy I felt when the 'Tristan' motif cropped up.

Altogether these 3 works made for a well-balanced program that captivated every member of the audience throughout, and the concert closed with a roaring applause. Belcea Quartet, with ease, lived up to their reputation for being world-class.

– Lewis Wolstanholme



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