On perhaps the last proper day of summer, we escaped the city heat and entered the cool elegance of Cadogan Hall for an hour of poetry in music. Russian pianist Pavel Kolesnikov is still in his twenties, yet he plays with all the assurance, poise and musical sensibility of an artist twice his age. His performance was one to savour, to revisit (thanks to the wonders of the BBC Radio 3 iPlayer) and to hold in the memory for a long time to come. It is rare to be so transported, to lose time, suspended in sound, such was the effect of Pavel Kolesnikov’s playing.

Pavel Kolesnikov © Eva Vermandel
Pavel Kolesnikov
© Eva Vermandel

A pianist from another era, Phyllis Sellick, declared that a concert featuring only one composer was “a list”. But how can one say that of the music of Fryderyk Chopin, so rich and subtle, so varied yet accessible that each performer, professional or amateur, can find their own personal way into it? Kolesnikov created a programme of pieces which “cast a different light” on Chopin, revealing not only his deeply Romantic mindset but also “an extremely refined, clear, clean style” (PK), perfectly complemented by Kolesnikov’s elegant, thoughtful playing. Thus, tautly-constructed Waltzes and Mazurkas were interwoven with Impromptus and two longer works, the brooding Fantasy in F minor and the brilliant, skittish Scherzo in E major.

Here was Chopin at his most bittersweet and intimate. A Waltz to open, scored in A flat major, but constantly hovering in the minor key, played with a tender poignancy and a caressing touch, which was evident throughout the entire concert. To follow, an Impromptu, also in A flat, perfectly paced, a charming summery perpetuum mobile, whose middle section strays into more sombre F minor. Another Waltz, one of Chopin’s best-loved, soulful and nostalgic, followed by the magical Fantasy-Impromptu, its agitated pirouetting opening replaced by a middle section of refined beauty, enhanced by Kolesnikov’s own improvisations, flickering filigree fiorituras of astonishing delicacy and elastic tempo rubato to provide subtle breathing spaces and dramatic suspensions.

The Fantasy in F minor emerged from its portentous march-like opening measures, its expansive narrative laid out before us, as if created there and then, such was Kolesnikov’s assured sense of pacing and suppleness of tempi.

A change of the ‘action’ (the keyboard and hammer mechanism) of the Yamaha grand piano followed, ”a luxury” for the pianist to provide a different sound to suit the second part of the programme.

Chopin’s Mazurkas are works of great finesse and variety, each one is different with distinct individual personalities, and all “absolutely polished, finished”. In his Mazurkas, Chopin expressed his deepest feelings for his Polish homeland and even the most upbeat of these miniatures is tinged with “zal”, a bittersweet melancholy. Kolesnikov caught the fleeting, shifting moods of these short works with an acute sensitivity. The Mazurka Op.68 No 4 was particularly memorable for its introspective profundity.

The Scherzo in E major is the lightest in character of the four, humorous in mood, though not without its complexity in the middle section. Like the works which preceded it, Kolesnikov handled it deftly, its technical demands seemingly invisible to him, its expressive riches gracefully balanced between the ethereal and the weighty.

The Grande Valse Brilliante provided the encore, at first intimate, but quickly taking flight to reveal its glorious and witty permutations.

*****