Many young soloists are curating their recitals now in new imaginative and thought-provoking ways. These can be hit or miss. Pavel Kolesnikov’s Wigmore Hall programme followed this trend and was definitely a hit. If some of the juxtapositions jarred a tad, this effect was no doubt designed to make the listener look afresh at the links between apparently disconnected works. A good example of this was Schubert’s Six moments musicaux, sliding into Scriabin’s Second Piano Sonata as if it was a seventh.

Pavel Kolesnikov © Wigmore Hall
Pavel Kolesnikov
© Wigmore Hall

The recital opened with a series of short pieces by Liszt and Scriabin. Kolesnikov seemed more at home in the shimmering febrile half-lights of late Scriabin works than he did Liszt. The Transcendental Study known as Wilde Jagd is a hectic piece which requires a devil-may-care attitude and a fiendish technique. Kolesnikov seemed unprepared for the onslaught so early in the recital and he never really got on top of it technically or interpretively. However, once he got to the Vision study, he had settled down and gave a convincing account.

Schubert's Moments musicaux that followed were exquisitely presented. One couldn’t help feeling that there was more rich and memorable thematic material in these six short pieces than in the whole of Liszt’s output. As they were presented here, every note counted and the range of expression and colour was fully realised. Kolesnikov clearly understood the tragic undertow of the music and never shirked from expressing its gentle rawness and warmth of feeling. He was alive to the wit and drama in the middle pieces. In the final Allegretto, a deeply sad and ambiguous pianissimo was achieved; a self-effacing performance of distinction and great beauty.

Pavel Kolesnikov © Wigmore Hall
Pavel Kolesnikov
© Wigmore Hall

From the A flat close of the Schubert there was an easy slip into the G sharp minor world of Scriabin's Second Sonata, an early work that possesses some of the sweetness of the composers Piano Concerto, particularly in the lovely first movement. It saw Kolesnikov at his most relaxed and carefree. One felt that the considerable technical demands were securely under his fingers and the typical Scriabin mix of lush romanticism, spirituality and darkness was completely embraced.

Beethoven's Piano Sonata no. 17 in D minor “Tempest” that concluded the recital found Kolesnikov responding to the dynamic world in a reflective and thoughtful way. The contrasts between the quiet arpeggios and febrile thematic Allegro material was achieved by taking everything down a notch or two. The arpeggios have never sounded so delicate and poetic and the angst-ridden theme was less strident than it can sometime sound. The effect was almost Schubertian. The slow movement was ravishing, although one missed the melodic brilliance of Schubert here. However, in the finale Beethoven surpasses himself thematically and produces one of the most beautiful passages in the whole piano repertoire. Kolesnikov’s vision of the work remained more lyrical than dramatic, with the climaxes scaled down and the final bars faded into nothingness with poetry and an exquisitely fine touch. 

****1