Stephen Greenbank
MusicWeb International
October 2016

In 2012 Pavel Kolesnikov became Prize Laureate winner of Canada’s Honens International Piano Competition, and in March of 2013 a live recording of his performances from that event was released on Honens’ own label. I’ve since managed to acquire it and it provides an engaging conspectus of the pianist’s artistry in solo piano, concerto and chamber music repertoire. In 2014, he recorded his first CD for the Hyperion label of Tchaikovsky’s The Seasons. For his follow-up he’s opted for a selection of 24 mazurkas by Chopin.

Between 1825 and 1849 Chopin composed at least 59 mazurkas, based on traditional Polish dance. Of these, 58 were published, 45 during his lifetime and 13 posthumously. The composer usually published them in groups of three or four. These sophisticated and highly original pieces display a wealth of ingenuity and melodic invention with their unstable harmonies and rhythmic and expressive nuances. Of the 24 here, three sets are offered complete: Op 17 (published 1834), Op 24 (published 1836) and Op 50 (published 1842). Kolesnikov’s creative approach to this recital precludes them from being given in chronological order. Instead he puts together an imaginative programme where the pieces seem to evolve naturally in a logical sequence, providing a comprehensive survey.

The mazurka’s wide range of emotion and mood is clearly evident in this selection. The opening chords which announce the melody of the Mazurka in A flat Op 50 No 2 seem a fitting introduction to the recital. Kolesnikov’s instinctive rubato throughout is convincing and persuasive. Op 17 No 2 has a world-weary demeanour, and Op 68 No 2 is imbued with nostalgia and wistfulness. One of my favourites is the B flat minor Op 24 No 4, here subtly nuanced, with the middle section reaching a peak of ecstasy. The popular Op 17 No 4 is etched with rarefied expressiveness, and I’m won over by the luminous sonorities Kolesnikov coaxes from the piano towards the end. In Op 56 No 3, the longest at seven minutes, he negotiates the ebb and flow of its narrative with rapt intensity. Dynamics are superbly controlled in this deeply personal utterance. Op 50 No 1 and Op 59 No 3 are life-affirming in their exuberance. The set ends with Op 59 No 2, its memorable theme dispatched with elegance, grace and charm.

The state-of-the-art sound quality of the recording couldn’t be bettered. The Wyastone Estate’s Concert Hall never seems to disappoint. Jeffrey Kallberg’s well-written and informative annotations are an added bonus. For imagination, flair, poetic insights and consummate pianism these deeply committed and convincing interpretations set the bar very high. This must be one of the most appealing Chopin discs I’ve ever come across.