Coruscating Digitals

pavel_kolesnikovIt’s not just policemen who seem to be getting younger – you can add world-class concert pianists to that list. I had the sheer pleasure of being in Milverton Church last Friday to hear Pavel Kolesnikov produce a stunning display of keyboard virtuosity and utter musical poetry. He is a wonderfully unassuming young man, looking like Harry Potter with a Simon Rattle hair-do, but in his remarks before each piece he played you could hear not only his deep understanding of the music, but also an intense love for his art.

This was billed as ‘The President’s Concert’. Usually this means an appearance by the Milverton Concert Society’s President Melvyn Tan, but this time he sent a deputy! And what a deputy – the rather bizarre title of this review comes from a 19th century description in the Boston ‘Globe’ of a concert given by the virtuoso pianist Sigismund Thalberg. I couldn’t better it as a phrase to describe what we heard from Pavel.

He opened the programme with Mozart’s 1785 Fantasia in C Minor, a piece which, in places, looks forward to Beethoven and is technically challenging. The decisive opening passages were measured and beautifully controlled. Throughout this performance we heard flawless articulation and perfect dynamics – Pavel kept the texture brilliantly clear by extremely good use of the pedal, never allowing a single note or phrase to become muddied. This was a joy to listen to.

The published programme was then diverted from – we had expected to hear two works by the mystical Russian composer Scriabin, but Pavel explained that he had reconsidered these and had come the conclusion that they didn’t fit with what he wanted the concert to impart. Before telling us what he would play in their place, he brought forward the Beethoven Opus 111 Sonata from the second half of the concert. Again I was riveted by the beautiful texture of the sound in the first movement, the inner voices coming out clearly but in perfect balance with what was going on around them. The second movement is a Beethoven enigma – anyone switching on the radio and coming in to this music would be hard pressed to identify its composer. It is stormy, brilliant and has definite pre-echoes of Liszt. Pavel’s performance of this music was a tour de force – every note crystal clear, passionate playing with total mastery of the instrument.

After the interval, in place of the Scriabin, we heard three of Chopin’s Mazurkas. Before playing them, Pavel said that the Mazurkas were a very rich vein of wonderful music from that composer but tended to be neglected compared to say the Nocturnes or the Polonaises. His advocacy of these pieces was borne out by his playing – note perfect but in no way robotic. Rubato was there but never excessive, and this was lovely playing.

The final item was Schumann’s monumental Fantasy in C Major, this composer’s finest work for the piano. I don’t want to sound boring, but again this was pianistic perfection. Pavel unleashed the volleys of left hand arpeggios in the first movement with great control but also great passion. The sound he produced in the second movement was majestic, sonorous and never cloudy or congested. This movement’s terrifying coda was handled with bravura and aplomb. The contrasts in the finale between the mighty, declamatory passages and the quiet legato melodies showed that Pavel has a quite outstanding musical maturity well beyond his years. The applause was clamorous and deservedly extended. The encore of Chopin’s posthumous Nocturne in C Sharp Minor was a lovely end to the evening.

Once again, Milverton Concert Society has hit the bullseye with a concert of the highest international standard. Keep it up!

Review by Harold W. Mead