sat 20/07/2024

Pavel Kolesnikov, Wigmore Hall review - the stuff of dreams | reviews, news & interviews

Pavel Kolesnikov, Wigmore Hall review - the stuff of dreams

Pavel Kolesnikov, Wigmore Hall review - the stuff of dreams

A breathtaking recital from the Russian pianist, plus a special prize

Kolesnikov: commanding a magnificent range of powersWigmore Hall

To plan a programme around The Tempest, its symbolism and the idea of evanescence, the fragility of the human condition, is one thing. To pull it off convincingly is quite another. The young Russian pianist Pavel Kolesnikov not only did so in his Wigmore Hall recital on Monday night, but offered an evening so profoundly touching that it seemed at times to inhabit Prospero’s magic island, plus some. 

Music, as many have commented over the centuries, lives in the spaces between the notes; and here, however many (Liszt) or few (Schubert) were available to play, Kolesnikov carried its message to us through subtler means. Something about these streamed and socially-distanced concerts in the pandemic has pushed the communicative nature of musical performance to special levels of urgency. And Kolesnikov’s extraordinary sensitivity already seems to be reaching new stratospheres. 

This was no ordinary recital, even though its components were in themselves not so strange. On paper the pieces nevertheless looked startlingly juxtaposed: the interpersing of Liszt and Skryabin, (two short pieces from Scriabin’s Quatre Morceaux Op. 51 plus his Sonata No. 2, and two Liszt Transcendental Etudes with a miniature to match), the Schubert Moments Musicaux, and Beethoven’s D minor Sonata Op. 31 No. 2, nicknamed “The Tempest” for reasons best known to his discredited sometime-secretary Anton Schindler. Most pianists would place this composer first in the programme; Kolesnikov made him the culmination. Pavel KolesnikovThe connections between the works were emotional more than historical, unfurling in a long span in which Kolesnikov only took one brief break, before the Beethoven. They relied not only on similarities, but sometimes upon extreme contrast: here were works that could take one’s breath away with their technical ambition – Liszt’s “Wilde Jagd” and “Vision” – set alongside some that make their point with the minimum of notes and the darkest of outlooks – the Schubert. Scriabin whirled in with winds of change, ambiguity, doubt and fantasy; and the Beethoven in Kolesnikov’s hands became musical philosophy as much as poetry, its concepts connected ineffably to The Tempest’s spirits of air and earth, wisdom and longing. Perhaps Schindler was right about some things after all.

Kolesnikov, who’s 31, seems an old head on young shoulders, and not above acknowledging a “thing of darkness” his own. Like Prospero, he’s in full command of a magnificent range of powers, whether it is the ability to pace a long crescendo in the Liszt, to sustain the lengthy hypnotic atmospheres of Schubert, to judge wisely the tempi of the Beethoven (some people play it way too fast; thank goodness, he doesn’t), or to let fly the marvels of Liszt and Scriabin with all their weird and wild imaginings. Ultimately there’s little point praising his gorgeous sound quality, his ability to colour each composer’s character in a different way, or his sober, undaunted poise in the Transcendental Etudes, because this artistry takes these things as a given; they are simply springboards into another plane of existence. This is such stuff as musical dreams are made on.

The arrival of a critic on stage after the Beethoven could only mean one thing: a prize. Sure enough, Guy Rickards was there to present Kolesnikov with the UK Critics’ Circle Music Section’s Emerging Artist Award for 2019, the pandemic having made earlier delivery impossible. The pianist made a gracious acceptance speech, emphasising how interdependent artists and audiences are. “We need each other,” he noted – and ended the evening with a gentle, shadowy account of Chopin’s "Raindrop" Prelude, which said it all.

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