Superbly executed Wigmore Hall exploration of Dawn to Dusk by Pavel Kolesnikov

  1. United KingdomUnited Kingdom Chopin, Schumann, Debussy, Bartók, Beethoven – Dawn to Dusk: Pavel Kolesnikov (piano). Wigmore Hall, London, 4.1.2020. (CC)
Pavel Kolesnikov © Eva Vermandel

Chopin – Waltz in A minor, B 150; Fantaisie-Impromptu, Op.66; Nocturne in F, Op.15/1; Scherzo No.3, Op.39; Prelude in D flat, Op.28/15, ‘Raindrop’

Beethoven – Piano Sonata in C sharp minor, Op.27/2, ‘Moonlight’; Piano Sonata in C, Op.53, ‘Waldstein’

SchumannNachtstück, Op.23/1

Debussy – Préludes, Book II ‘Feux d’artifice’

Bartók – Out of Doors Suite: ‘The Night’s Music’

As so often, Pavel Kolesnikov offered a programme that was intelligent, stimulating and frequently revelatory. Over at Kings Place in 2018, a recital entitled ‘From Grandeur to Intimacy’ juxtaposed Louis Couperin (G minor Suite and Le Tombeau de M. Blancrocher) with Schumann’s Fantasie to phenomenal effect (and, in fact, Rameau made an appearance at the Wigmore Hall here as an encore: ‘L’Egyptienne’ from his Suite in C minor; his other encore was C. P. E. Bach’s ‘Solfegietto’). Here, a Beethoven Sonata closed each half; it was the interlacings and correspondences between the pieces that enabled us to hear these familiar pinnacles of the repertoire in a new light.

The programme booklet included an introduction by Kolesnikov himself in addition to Jessica Duchen’s excellent, fuller contribution (I wonder if the Scherzo was another late addition, though, as that was not covered by Duchen). Kolesnikov built his programme around Beethoven, appropriately given Beethoven 250; referring to Beethoven’s ‘musical tree’, the first half was dedicated to the more Romantic side (represented by Chopin); the second, to the Impressionist branch. The title, Dusk to Dawn, is the reflection of the Beethoven sonatas’ nicknames, ‘Moonlight’ for Op.27/2 and, in Italian, ‘L’Aurora’ (Dawn) for what we know as the ‘Waldstein’. So, the recital moved towards night (towards ‘Moonlight’) before, post-interval, day dawned after two night pieces; the darkness was illuminated by some fireworks. (And note, too, the link between the Marseillaise quote in ‘Feux d’artifice’ and the theme of the last movement of the ‘Waldstein’; intriguing, to say the least).

We began with an ‘extra’ piece announced from the keyboard (if not its composer or title): Chopin’s Waltz in A minor, B 150, with deliciously teasing right hand arpeggiations, which led perfectly to a magnificent performance of the C sharp minor Fantaisie-Impromptu, impossibly fluent in technical terms and imposing in its exploratory aspect, the return to the opening impeccably judged. Kolesnikov links this piece to the last movement of the ‘Moonlight’, while the D flat Nocturne, its final, proto-Impressionist page (another link, presumably) perfectly judged, placed immediately prior to the Sonata, pinpointed a kinship between the two. He emphasised this last link by taking applause between the Third Scherzo and the Prelude, thus linking the ‘Raindrop’ to the ‘Moonlight’. Kolesnikov played on a Bechstein (from Jacques Samuel Pianos) with a rounded treble, less pingy than your average Steinway, adding a sense of sweetness to the delivery. Most intriguing of the Chopin set was the Scherzo, completely rethought, chords radiant and the whole sounding decidedly modern, clearly anticipating the composer’s late style.

Of course, the D flat of the Chopin Prelude has an enharmonic link to the C sharp minor of Beethoven’s Op.27/2. This was a performance of high integrity, the first movement sculpted to perfection, a model of pedalling excellence: every note was audible, yet the atmosphere was magnificent. He almost overlapped the final chord of the first movement and the opening of the second, the two almost welded together, the speed of the latter reflective, suspensions relished. The Presto agitato finale exuded internal energy; I wonder why the sfs indicated in the manuscript at the top of those semiquaver ascents were underplayed, though?

Schumann acted as a link to the second half, his Nachtstück Op.23/1 (from a set of four) a nightmarish crescendo on the death of his brother, Eduard; the original title for this movement was ‘Trauerzug’ (Funeral Precession). Intriguingly, it begins as if in medias res, the cortege approaching to a climax before receding into the distance. Kolesnikov almost caressed the chords of the opening, which other interpreters often see as more focused and directional; with Kolesnikov, it was more of an arrival through mist, or a dream. In his written introduction, Kolesnikov refers to the second half pieces preceding the ‘Waldstein’ as ‘slightly perplexing’. Certainly, after a brief illumination from Debussy’s ‘Feux d’artifice,’ brilliantly, sensitively executed, Bartók’s ‘The Night’s Music’ from Out of Doors sounded decidedly nocturnal and interior, certainly the most forward-looking music of the evening. And how clear the C major opening to the ‘Waldstein’ sounded after that. One aspect of Kolesnikov’s playing that was absolutely constant throughout the evening was his rock-solid sense of rhythm, which paid huge dividend here, no sense of rushing in the rapid semiquavers or in the more chorale-like passages. It was lovely to hear glissandi in the finale, linking perhaps to the music we had just heard in their phantasmagoric edge. And the actual emergence of the finale’s theme was glorious: glowing, aspirational, celestial. Textural clarity was magnificent throughout, too, as was clarity of intent.

A simply superb recital. Good to see it packed to the rafters, too, with a very healthy queue for returns.

Colin Clarke

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