Incredible intimacy: Pavel Kolesnikov at Kings Place

Part of the generous line up of concerts at this year’s London Piano Festival, Pavel Kolesnikov’s afternoon recital was entitled From Grandeur to Intimacy and featured music by Couperin and Schumann.

At first sight one might struggle to find connections between these composers, but Kolesnikov successfully demonstrated that the common thread is an ability by both composers – refracted through the lens of Kolesnikov’s sensitive, committed playing – to create profound intimacy and emotional depth – so much so that it borders on grandeur.

Kolesnikov’s approach is understated, idiosyncratic, mature and elegant. Limiting physical gestures to an occasional hand lifted gracefully from the keyboard, his physical stillness allows one to fully appreciate the beauty and natural poetry of his soundworld – at times so delicate, so tender, that I felt close to tears.

Couperin’s Suite in G minor felt unexpectedly modern with its crunchy harmonies and colourful dissonances, highlighted by some lovely, carefully-placed “finger legato” and overholding of certain notes – a technique drawn from harpsichord playing, which, combined with judicious pedalling, brought a wonderful range of tonal nuances on a modern piano. The short dances which comprise the suite were graceful and introspective, often improvisatory in character, thanks to the pianist’s fresh take on these courtly miniatures, and Kolesnikov sustained an incredible, almost tangible build up of tension with his restrained, concentrated approach. This was carried into the opening of Schumann’s great Fantasie in C, Kolesnikov allowing only a fractional pause before commencing this piece. Now, in the impassioned opening measures of Robert Schumann’s musical love missive to his beloved Clara, the tension released for a moment to allow this personal outpouring of emotion to flow and swell. Here is love in all its aspects – from breathless excitement to heart-skipping joy or whispered tenderness and introspection. Intentionally improvisatory in its structure and approach, the three-movement format of the work was indicated but the transitions between the movements so subtly and elegantly handled that there was never any interruption to the narrative flow, and Kolesnikov capitalised on this to present a reading which was deeply romantic, rich in expression and emotional breadth, and also highly personal.

Not yet thirty (and he looks much younger), Pavel Kolesnikov plays with an impressive maturity and individuality of approach of a musician twice his age, something which strikes me every time I hear him. Do seek out his recordings (on Hyperion) or hear him in concert. Definitely a “great” in the making.

(Picture credit: Viktor Erik Emanuel / Kings Place)

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