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Russian Pianist Volodos Meets High Expectations in Philharmonic Debut

February 14, 2000|JOHN HENKEN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Friday night, Arcadi Volodos, the next (your-favorite-dead-pianist's-name-here), made his debut with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. Surprisingly, the widely touted young Russian's reputation did not precede him in sufficient measure to fill the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, for what was one of only two performances.

The stay-aways, however, probably will be hearing about it for a long time to come. Anticipation can be a cruel burden for an artist, but this seemed like a win-win situation for Volodos. High expectations were fulfilled, and those who came doubting anyone could live up to the hype received not only the joy of the playing but also a fillip of astonishment--it's all true, he is the next legend-to-be.

His vehicle was the Tchaikovsky Concerto No. 1, a piece easy to please with, but hard to overwhelm with. Battalions of other pianists, after all, are regularly heard to good effect in it.

Few, though, seem as at ease in it as Volodos. His early training was as a singer, and he phrases even the most idiomatically mechanical passages with rare clarity of sound and purpose. His personality is assured and apparent, bolstered by power, precision and expressive grace.

*

Volodos is most often compared to is Horowitz, a linkage he encouraged with his encores. He played Horowitz's insanely over-the-top "Carmen Variations" with ear-boggling speed and articulation, followed with equal verve by Moszkowski's "Sparks" Etude, another Horowitz favorite.

The philharmonic, under Lawrence Foster, gave him encouragement and scope in accompaniment, and contributed handsome principal solos as well, notably from cellist Daniel Rothmuller, flutist Janet Ferguson and oboist David Weiss.

The first half of the program featured the West Coast premiere of Alfred Schnittke's "In memoriam . . . ," a brooding tribute to his mother arranged from his own Piano Quintet. This is dark, deeply unhappy music dominated by slithery, buzzing strings and cold clouds of percussion. It is lighted--but not warmed--by an ironic waltz, and fades into enigmatic, pastoral triviality. To open, Foster and the philharmonic offered a somewhat slow but endearingly characterful account of Prokofiev's "Classical" Symphony.

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