A Superb Wigmore Hall Debut by Pavel Kolesnikov

United KingdomUnited Kingdom Rameau, Debussy, Chopin, Pavel Kolesnikov (piano), Wigmore Hall, London, 12.1.2014 (RB)

Rameau – Gavotte avec six doubles (from Nouvelles suites de pieces de clavecin)
Les niais de Sologne (from Suite in D Major)
La villageoise
Le rappel des oiseaux Tambourin (from Suite in E minor)
Debussy – Images Série 1
Chopin – Nocturne in C sharp minor Op posth
Nocturne in D flat major Op 27 No. 2
Sonata No. 3 in B minor Op 58

Pavel Kolesnikov was named Laureate of Canada’s Honens Prize for piano in 2012.  He has just released a recording featuring works he played at the Honens competition, including the Chopin B minor sonata and the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto.  This was his Wigmore Hall debut for which he had elected to play a demanding and sophisticated selection of works traversing the Baroque, Romantic and early 20th Century periods.

The first half of the recital was one of the most spellbinding pieces of piano playing I have heard in quite a long time and it was remarkable coming from such a young pianist.  From the opening notes of Rameau’s Gavotte we knew we were in safe hands with touch and timbre perfectly calibrated and the ornaments tastefully executed.  In the opening variations Kolesnikov showed a wonderful variety of touch and he was able to bring the full resources of the concert grand into play while at the same time keeping the textures light and transparent.  The variations became increasingly brilliant and energetic before the final reprise of the Gavotte.  In Les niais de Sologne (also a set of variations) Kolesnikov showed his innate musicality in the way in which he could make the piano sing and in the charm of his playing.  In the first variation he displayed a wonderful rhythmic buoyancy while the demanding left hand passagework in the second variation scampered along lightly and effortlessly.  La villageoise had a dreamy romantic feel and the playing reminded me of Horowitz’s approach to some Scarlatti sonatas.  The chattering of the birds was brought vividly to life in Le rappel des oiseaux while the drum-infused Tambourin brought the selection to a delightful conclusion.

We moved from the 18th to the 20th Century with Debussy’s first set of Images including the later composer’s homage to Rameau.  The opening chords of Reflets dans l’eau had a translucent quality and the ensuing right hand arpeggios were seamless and exceptionally delicate.  As the piece progressed, Kolesnikov conjured up a glittering web of colours and textures that was mesmerising.  There was some lovely shaping of the line in Hommage à Rameau and a wonderful expressive freedom while Debussy’s opulent harmonies and sonorities were played completely fresh as if newly imagined.  Mouvement was light and brilliant with Kolesnikov alive to every twist and turn in the score.

The second half of the recital consisted of works by Chopin:  as in the first half, there was some exceptionally fine playing but there were also dips in concentration.  The opening chords of the C sharp minor Nocturne were weighted beautifully and the subsequent melody was played in a highly expressive and red- blooded way.  In the D flat Nocturne, Kolesnikov created a velvety cushion of sound in the left hand while the intricate filigree was executed with the utmost delicacy.

Kolesnikov’s playing of Chopin’s Sonata in B minor was inconsistent.  The first movement had an imperious opening and received a no-nonsense account from Kolesnikov.  I slightly missed some of the freewheeling fantasy elements in this movement that one can hear in, for example, Cortot’s performance.  I wondered if there was scope to characterise the agitato section more vividly and to allow the cantilena section more freedom and space to breathe.  The opening of the scherzo was taken at a blistering pace – a dazzling piece of playing – while the trio was allowed to unfold in a reflective and poetic way.  The main dip in concentration occurred in the slow movement:  the tempo became slightly erratic and the magical modulations did not quiet unfold in the way that they should.  Kolesnikov recovered well, however, and gave us a barnstorming piece of playing in the finale:  the dizzying pyrotechnics were dispatched with alacrity and the coda succeeded in bringing the house down.

There were three encores:  two mazurkas by Chopin and a short work from the baroque/early classical period.  Overall, this was a superb debut from a rising star of the future.

Robert Beattie


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