Pavel Kolesnikov, a former BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist whose teachers have ranged from the old Ginsburg/Soviet guard (Dorensky) to the elegantly Western European (Norma Fisher at the Royal College of Music, Pires in Brussels), is one of a crop of gifted young Russians currently based in London. This recording, a pleasant selection sympathetically engineered and efficiently produced, offers an overview of the dance form that pre-occupied Chopin's life, more or less from first breath to last.
Kolesnikov's touch is cultured, his sound warm and articulate, his projection happiest in reflective, confessional mode. Now and again, compared with the old-world earthiness of Arthur Rubinstein or Małcużyński, or the fantasy, the futurism, of Sofronitzky or Maryla Jonas, his cuff-link polish errs too much towards the urbane, the heart of the music wrapped in muslin. But when he succeeds in escaping the concert room, the studio habitat, and lets the light in, he dreams for all of us.
Arranged non-chronologically, the best numbers are the C-sharp minor, Opus 50/3 (transient impetuosity aside), the C-minor, Opus 56/3, the A-flat, Opus 59/2 (deliciously cadenced), the two seriously weighted A-minor Mazurkas from the early-1840s (Notre temps, Emile Gaillard), and the youthful A-minor, Opus 68/2. Least commanding among the larger-scale offerings is the B-flat minor, Opus 24/4, which has its maggiore moments but loses itself in cautiously foggy patches.
Prolonged cadences, lingering pauses, deliberated subsidiary voices, the framed expressive moment, drama at a premium, make up the Kolesnikov arsenal. Nothing, though, is guaranteed. The A-flat, Opus 24/3, steers just clear of fussiness and mannerism (with a beautifully gauged fade-out finish) and likewise Opus 50/2 at the start of the album. The tricky A-minor, Opus 17/4 (graveyard of the many), doesn't, needing more momentum and stability of pulse to intensify and climax the poetic line. Neither, opening and close apart, does the G-minor from Opus 24 gel as poignantly as it might, a disposition for (very) slow/(very) fast contrasts generating a capricious overview with a sectionalised, episodic inner core (lento/con anima, crotchet=108, is all Chopin asks for).
Occasionally we find ourselves racing the super-octane lane. Opus 6/1, Opus 17/1, Opus 24/2 (sporadically faster than Argerich) and Opus 30/2 don't do it for me – speed bringing flippancy, and in the case of Opus 24/2 loss of character. But the “semplice” C-major, Opus 33/3, comes close to illustrating Meyerbeer's claim that Chopin (vehemently denying the fact) used to play this piece in two rather than three—in Kolesnikov's case with a fermata drawn across the 'second' beat. An interesting experiment, should you want to hear it that way, but one, it has to be said, inhabiting a cosmos light-years removed from the cognizance of Rubinstein, Novaes or Cortot. Ashkenazy used to achieve the illusion more artfully.