Sharing Chopin’s Poetry

“today I finished the Fantasy and the sky is beautiful…..”

Fryderyk Chopin, 1841

The sky was indeed beautiful on perhaps the last day of summer, August Bank Holiday Monday, when I and my concert companion escaped the city heat and embraced 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 of piano music by Fryderyk Chopin was one to savour, to revisit (thanks to the wonders of the Radio Three 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.

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 cultivated playing.

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Pavel Kolesnikov (photo: Eva Vermandel)

Some purists may balk at his elastic tempi, pushing rubato perhaps a little too far for some tastes (though not ours). This slackening of tempo, stretching of time, was felt most palpably in the repeats in the Waltzes, proof that no repetition is the same in the hands of a pianist. There were decorations too, sprinklings of improvisation, graceful musical seasonings, though always subtle and delicate as a breath. As a great admirer of Bach, I am sure Chopin would have approved of these embellishments, especially when delivered with such sensitivity and intuition.

From the opening work, a Waltz scored in A flat major but constantly hovering in the minor key, played with a tender poignancy and a caressing touch, Pavel Kolesnikov created a bittersweet intimacy in each work he touched, even in the grander, more expansive measures of the Fantasy in F minor and Scherzo no. 4, whose skittish good-nature closed this exquisite hour of music.

As I said, it is rare to be so transported by sound, by pianist and composer so perfectly in sympathy; yet I have heard Kolesnikov before in Debussy and Schumann, and I have been moved to tears by the poetic refinement of his playing. When so many young players seem to subscribe to the louder-faster school of pianism it is refreshing to hear a pianist who does not rush, who knows how to create breathing space and dramatic suspensions in the music, and who appreciates the smallest details as well as the most sweeping narratives.

Afterwards we stepped out into the Chelsea sunshine, found a shady spot for a drink and a long conservation about music, concerts, art, writing, and had the privilege of meeting the pianist, who was dining at the same cafe, to offer our congratulations for his wonderful, transporting performance.


My review for Bachtrack here and my companion’s response to the concert here

4 thoughts on “Sharing Chopin’s Poetry”

  1. It’s an interesting topic about how far rubato goes before it becomes overdone. It’s truly about the listener and not about any set parameters.

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