Pavel Kolesnikov at Wigmore Hall – Rameau, Debussy, Chopin

Nouvelles suites de pièces de clavecin – Gavotte with six doubles
Pièces de clavecin – Les niais de Sologne; La villageoise; Le rappel des oiseaux; Tambourin
Images – Série I
Nocturnes – in C sharp minor, Op.posth.; in D flat, Op.27/2
Piano Sonata in B minor, Op.58

Pavel Kolesnikov (piano)

Reviewed by: Rob Pennock

Reviewed: 12 January, 2014
Venue: Wigmore Hall, London

Pavel Kolesnikov. Photograph: Colin Way Pavel Kolesnikov won first prize at the 2012 Honens International Piano Competition (replete with a $100,000 cash award and an artistic and career development programme) and this was his Wigmore Hall debut in the city he now considers his home.

To choose Rameau – as opposed to the more usual Baroque fare of Bach, Handel or Scarlatti – was an enterprising choice. The opening Gavotte was very slow and romantically phrased, but the decorative trills were uneven, the hands too evenly balanced, the sustaining pedal too liberally applied. In the doubles (variation) there was a lack of tonal variety and rhythmic emphasis, the tempos were very relaxed and much the same could be said of the remaining pieces, where the dance element seemed to have been lost in a warm, fuzzy haze.

Debussy’s Images inhabit a very different world, but do not respond well to a one-size-fits-all approach. The opening of ‘Reflets dans l’eau’ demonstrated that Kolesnikov has a liking for measured speeds and soft-fingering, and while the right-hand arabesques were exquisitely and very lightly voiced, the piece became a series of lushly phrased episodes with no unifying thread. ‘Hommage à Rameau’ is in the style of a sarabande, which requires a degree of rhythmic definition that eluded Kolesnikov, and much the same can be said of ‘Mouvement’, which lacked tension, underlying power and delineation of line.

Despite this, it was evident that Kolesnikov is highly musical, has immense concentration and unlike so many artists of his generation, isn’t just interested in playing as fast as possible.

Chopin failed to bring out the best in the pianist, though, simply because his limited tonal palette and lack of dynamism evened every piece out. The first section of the C sharp minor Nocturne had a beautiful legato line, but one would have liked to hear more definition in the central section, a more magical return to the main theme and in the ubiquitous Opus27/2 Kolesnikov failed to sculpt the gorgeous main theme, or make the phrasing rise and fall. The B minor Sonata brought much of the same. In the opening Allegro the dynamic range was restricted, the second subject – at a marginally slower tempo – failed to sing, and the development lacked drama. However to Kolesnikov’s credit he made minor adjustments in the exposition repeat. He took the scherzo at a very fleet tempo, yet completely failed to bring any rhythmic clarity or shape to it, and the trio was far too slow. The Largo had feeling but was shapeless, and the finale lacked power, the staccato and sforzando markings all but ignored. There were three encores, by Chopin and Rameau.

Despite the above, Pavel Kolesnikov does have a clear sense of musicality and everything he plays is very deeply considered, but he does need to address a series of questions about his style and technique, which hopefully the Honens prize will enable him to do.

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