Over the summer I had the good fortune to attend a recital at a local venue. The pianist was Pavel Kolesnikov and the event was part of a week-long piano festival. As I'd reviewed two of his recordings (Chopin and Couperin), I went along with eager anticipation. I wasn't disappointed and my expectations were fulfilled. The programme was an interesting one made up of short pieces by diverse composers but cumulatively building towards an impressive climax at the end in the shape of Schumann's C major Fantasy, Op 17. The occasion was an unmitigated success.
His latest release on Hyperion has certain parallels. He described this new venture in an interview as 'an exploration of Beethoven’s humour and fury through his earlier works'. OK, this time the focus is on one composer, but it draws on a variety of contrasting piano works of various genres and styles. Once again Kolesnikov presents an intelligently constructed and well-thought-out programme and the progression from short works, via sonatas and bagatelles, to the climactic C minor Variations seems a perfectly logical one.
He kick starts proceedings with four miniatures, bagatelles in all but name, experimental Beethoven where the early seeds are sown for the later piano sonatas. The jaunty, sprightly cast of the Andante in C major makes for an attractive introduction. It was interesting to read in the booklet that the piece only surfaced for the first time in a Henle edition of 1975. It's followed by a Presto of driving intensity. The C major Allegretto is rhythmically rather quirky, whilst the C minor, maybe originally earmarked for the Sonata Op 10 No 1, has grandeur proportions.
The seven Op 33 Bagatelles are the earliest of three sets, published in 1803, and reveal an evolving style. Each is well-crafted and appealing. Kolesnikov is acutely responsive to their fleeting moods. The first and third have an infectious charm, whilst the second's unpredictability and off-beat accents are guaranteed to raise a smile. The fourth and sixth are bathed in a soothing lyricism. No 5 impresses with its dazzling fingerwork.
The thought of another 'Moonlight' Sonata filled me with dread. I needn't have worried. With Kolesnikov playing it, that proves to be a fresh element. It's certainly the finest performance of it I've ever heard. The exquisite legato and dynamic sensitivity of the first movement held me spellbound. The finale is dispatched with consummate ease and scintillating brilliance. Op 14 No 2 is most welcome, as it doesn't get the exposure it deserves. The opening movement is suffused with the joys of spring, followed by a theme and variations. The Scherzo finale is witty and capricious.
A fitting climax is reached with the 32 Variations on an Original Theme, WoO 80. I'm very fond of this work, ever since I first got to know it via a black and white film featuring the Canadian pianist Glenn Gould. The same stunning pianism revealed in that film is present here, with Kolesnikov achieving passion and drama in full measure.
The Wyastone acoustic brings out the very best of the well-voiced Steinway. Annotations in English, French and German are provided by Richard Wigmore. There's no doubt in my mind that this young pianist is going from strength to strength with each new recording.