Pushed by his singer parents, Arcadi Volodos was initially a very reluctant pianist, and only decided to give the instrument a proper go in his teens. But then there was no stopping this single-minded Russian, and by his early twenties he was world-famed for his preternatural virtuosity. As an artist, however, he went for the slow burn, letting his Beethoven and Schubert privately marinate for years before playing them in public to acclaim.
To catch him playing Brahms’s mighty Piano Concerto No 2 with Riccardo Chailly and the Gewandhausorchester Leipzig was to encounter him on the solid ground where he has always been most at home, and as he strode ebulliently to the piano one sensed the football player he had originally wanted to be. What he and the orchestra went on to demonstrate in the next fifty minutes was team-playing of the highest order, a synergy of forces reflecting the most perfect congruence of intention.
Volodos’s opening phrases were leisurely and spacious, preparing for his first explosive attack; this work represented Brahms’s emancipation from his Beethovenian shackles, and Volodos seemed bent on proving this with his silky touch and exuberantly sumptuous sound. Each movement had its glories and its own particular magic, with the piano at times filling the hall to bursting, and at others seeming to come from somewhere very far away. There was sweet companionship in the dialogue between piano and solo cello which spread its gentle stream of melody through the Andante; garlanded by piano trills, the woodwind mused ecstatically; the closing Allegro bounded along under Chailly’s springy beat.
The opening night in this all-Brahms series had brought the Double Concerto in A Minor, where the soloists were the Greek violinist Leonidas Kavakos and the Italian cellist Enrico Dindo. And if the latter made the former seem for once like second fiddle, it was in the nicest possible way because Dindo’s sound, as he launched into his opening solo, had massive strength married to an Italianate expressiveness. Following Brahms’s instruction to deliver that solo ‘in the style of a recitative’, his instrument sang operatically, with the normally-dominant Kavakos faithfully picking up the cue, so that the whole thing felt like chamber music. Meanwhile we also got the first two symphonies, wonderfully animated thanks to this orchestra’s unique qualities: fullness of tone, firmness of line, and an eagerness almost palpable. Next week brings the rest of the symphonic canon.