Pianist Oleg Volkov gives good performance in second half of recital


October 19, 1992|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Music Critic

Oleg Volkov loves the music of his country. The second half of his recital yesterday at the Walters Art Gallery featured works by Scriabin, Prokofiev and Rachmaninov, and they were pieces that the young Russian pianist was clearly more comfortable with than those by Schubert and Beethoven featured on the first half.

The way he played six preludes by Scriabin exuded confidence. These early Chopinesque works -- they were from the opus 11 dTC and opus 16 sets -- had just the right combination of muscularity, mystery and color. Although the pianist was playing on a glassy-sounding Baldwin that sounded as if it had an uneven action, Volkov was able to endow these aphoristic, jewel-like pieces with delicate half-tints of color and to make them sound -- remember that Scriabin was interested in synesthesia -- almost as if they were perfumed. It's perhaps no accident that Volkov's master in Moscow was Victor Merzhanov -- one of the great Scriabinists, whose discs of that composer's Sonata No. 5 and opus 8 etudes are fondly remembered by record collectors.

Volkov was only slightly less affecting in two Rachmaninov preludes and that composer's wonderful transcriptions of Fritz Kreisler's "Love's Sorrows" and "Love's Joys." The two transcriptions were delivered with almost violinistic facility, and the F-sharp Minor prelude was captured with precisely the right measure of nostalgic ambience.

Only the huge B-flat major prelude suggested some holes in Volkov's pianistic armor. He recovered nicely from a memory slip, but his sonority -- though it could have been the fault of his inferior instrument -- was not large enough and the complicated chordal passages seemed to give him a little difficulty. There were no reservations whatever about the way he played Prokofiev's "Sarcasms."These pieces are etched in acid, and Volkov delivered them with an appropriate nastiness of spirit and percussiveness of touch. But if the sarcasm and wit in the Prokofiev pieces were so comfortable for Volkov, Beethovenian drama and Schubertian humor were not.

Beethoven's 32 Variations in C Minor, which opened the program, were played without a sense of sweep and heightening drama. The coda of this piece should all but explode from accumulated tension. But in Volkov's performance, one phrase never led inevitably into the next.

And two Schubert Impromptus -- the A-flat from opus 90 and the B-flat from opus 142 -- were delivered predictably and rather charmlessly.

Volkov did better in one of the composer's sonatas.

The rarely heard early Sonata in A Minor (opus 164) seems to be something of a specialty among Russian pianists -- both Alexei Nasedkin and Sviatoslav Richter play it most eloquently -- and Volkov explored the quirky slow movement, with its fascinating anticipations of the composer's penultimate sonata in A major, most persuasively. But elsewhere the playing was too calculated to capture a sense of the music's spontaneity and joy.

The encores were a Schubert Musical Moment and a Chopin Waltz.

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