David Kadouch (piano), VSO/ Dietrich Paredes: Works by Beethoven and Mendelssohn, Orpheum, March 16, 2019.


Following in the French footsteps of Jean Efflam Bavouzet, François-Frédéric Guy and Alexandre Tharaud, the up-and-coming 33-year-old pianist David Kadouch now arrives to perform Beethoven’s 3rd Piano Concerto. Kadouch undertook his early studies at the Nice and Paris Conservatoires, moving to the Reina Sofia School in Madrid, and ultimately won the top prize in the Beethoven Bonn Competition in 2005 and the Leeds International Piano Competition in 2009. He has released an acclaimed disc of Shostakovich’s Preludes and Fugues, and his very recent collaboration with Edgar Moreau in the Cello Sonatas of Franck, Poulenc & Strohl was praised strongly in Gramophone. His Beethoven with the VSO on this occasion was quite exceptional, displaying unusual emotional commitment, insight and technical aplomb, though the rest of the outing, conducted by visiting Venezuelan Dietrich Paredes, was not of the same standard.

Kadouch recorded a fine Beethoven ‘Emperor’ for Naxos as early as 2007, and it is clear that his approach to Beethoven combines the planning of a military general with the executional skill of an artist. The pianist also exudes evident charisma, moves with the tensile grace and power of a dancer, and his gestures seem to emanate from somewhere deep in his solar plexus. The effect is strongly sensual; his command of gesture makes sound and structure visible at once. Technically, this performance of Beethoven’s C minor Concerto was a virtuoso performance, the pianist fully enlisting the roster of technique required to make the music fully live. Who could have known that the VSO Steinway possessed such a range of colour and register as Kadouch brought to bear, and when have we heard such a wealth of articulation and so many levels of dynamic expression in a concerto?      


The pianist’s pacing of the concerto was estimable. Compositional units continually built into larger structures, made all the more effective when Beethoven’s disruptive junctures cut across his form-building. One had confidence that Kadouch knew exactly where he was going, and we as listeners had only to only follow him in his exploration. Yet this was not an interpretation fully fixed in advance, but rather a demonstration of architecture and line made visible and audible in the moment. The first-movement cadenza was delivered as a weighty and marvellous edifice, its close a thrilling culmination and release. The opening of the slow movement was remarkable for its veiled veneer and undamped halo, and in the movement’s final utterance, Kadouch’s gentle and hesitant  closure was deeply moving, the more so when it was suddenly rocked by new-found energy at the launch of the finale. This was Beethoven playing at its finest.

Conductor Dietrich Paredes displayed skill in securing orchestral balance and ensemble in the concerto, but there were deficiencies. A telling moment occurred right at the soloist’s entry in the first movement after the long orchestral exposition. Kadouch did not speed up the rising triad but it ‘sounded’ faster as each note led to the next. In contrast, the orchestra’s response was square. Kadouch’s lyrical playing was notable for its agogic flexibility, yet when an absolutely even scale or arpeggio was called for, the orchestra did not match its precision. The discrepancy between the styles of soloist and orchestra was more prevalent than one would wish, fortunately overcome by the sheer musical presence of the pianist. 


Overall, Paredes’ conducting turned out as more serviceable than inspired. The opening ‘Fingal’s Cave’ Overture failed to stir the imagination very much nor penetrate Mendelssohn’s luminous landscape: thematic material was whipped up into waves of sound without much regard for pacing and colouring. In Beethoven’s ‘Creatures of Prometheus’ Overture, the conductor tended to reduce Beethoven to the beat: despite the attempt of his left-hand to give occasional shape and direction, the constant pulse of his right hand seemed to dominate the music’s progress.

Paredes also seemed to pay less attention to the defining features of Beethoven’s tonal structure. For example, the overture begins with a powerful series of chords with carefully graded harmonic weight (moving between degrees of consonance and dissonance). Yet the conductor gave them all equal weight, ignoring their harmonic synergies and forcing the dynamics to generate the expression. This lack of harmonic discretion on the smaller scale was unfortunately also manifest in the large, and seemed to rob the music of a critical component of Beethoven style. Beethoven’s tonal schemes are important: he was working essentially with the tonally-generated form of Haydn and Mozart, but straining the Classical balances for greater expressive effect. It goes without saying that the experience of hearing Beethoven’s moving tonal planes in live performance is one of the greatest pleasures a music lover can have.

The composer’s buoyant Symphony No. 2 is always a delight to hear and, as the closing work, Parades certainly mustered enough energy to please the audience. Yet, more finely observed, the approach still seemed stylistically generalized: the conductor and orchestra did not always speak Beethoven’s musical language with the fullest understanding.

A reasonably pleasurable outing all told, where the big story was David Kadouch.

© VCM Staff 2019