Chapman University’s new Musco Center for the Arts inaugurated its Distinguished Piano Series with a sophisticated, 50 Shades of Gray Liszt and Scriabin recital by 2013 Van Cliburn Gold Medalist Vadym Kholodenko. This was the young Ukrainian virtuoso’s sixth appearance since he resumed his touring career in Glasgow on 14 April after the tragic death of his two young daughters on 17 March.

Vadym Kholodenko © Van Cliburn
Vadym Kholodenko
© Van Cliburn
Kholodenko played the original program as scheduled, but his emotions cannot have been the same. And yet, sitting upright and impassive, at times seemingly immobile, Kholodenko showed no outward signs of grief; musically, however, he seemed to be seeking out and communing with all that was most noble in the music he was playing, transcending the gap between the romantic magic he was spinning out so effortlessly and his reality.

Kholodenko had played in Los Angeles as recently as February 28, at a K17 house concert/Oscars party with cellist Boris Andrianov. His sets that afternoon of Chopin, Rachmaninov and Scriabin preludes were notable for their sad poetry and casual virtuosity. In the larger, audiophile space of Musco Center, Kholodenko filled the hall with sound, transforming Liszt’s romance novellas into genuine communions in which you could hear the pianist’s as well as the music’s emotion, as if this music was the entire world. He even found nobility in the Invocation, the first of the Harmonies poétiques et religieuses, which happened in one breathe. Kholodenko’s handled Scriabin’s Preludes more gently, muting Chopin’s resonances in favor of what seemed to be an ongoing narrative.

Kholodenko returned twice for encores: Purcell’s splendid Ground in C Minor, Z.D221, which Kholodenko adorned with the most wonderful, rolling trills, and Rachmaninov’s arrangement of a Tchaikovsky lullaby, perhaps for all innocent children.