Pavel Kolesnikov begins this all-Beethoven recital with four unpublished short pieces circa 1792-1803. They are Bagatelles in spirit if not in name, and Kolesnikov molds them with minute calibrations of articulation that one might describe as a synthesis of Wilhelm Kempff’s cameo-like watercolors and Glenn Gould’s spiky humor. By contrast, the pianist shapes the Moonlight sonata’s opening 'Adagio' with limpid phrasing and alluring half-tints that suggest the composer’s controversial pedaling without following it literally, although Murray Perahia’s less rounded-off interpretation conveys more backbone. At first, Kolesnikov’s little tempo adjustments and overpointed phrasing in the 'Allegretto' struck me as mannered and arch. Listening again, I realized how these expressive devices brought out a wry, almost mischievous side to the music that’s seldom emphasized. But Kolesnikov’s finale, like many others of late, sacrifices Beethoven’s 'agitato' fury for pinpointed accuracy.
The pianist’s acute attention to detail enhances the Op 33 Bagatelles’ characterful diversity from piece to piece. You’ll notice his carefully differentiated dynamic levels in No 1’s petulant descending scales, and how he changes timbre and mood, shifting from F major to D major in No 3. Although Kolesnikov’s lyrically sedate approach to Op 14 No 2’s first movement holds validity, I prefer a leaner, terser conception in the line of Artur Schnabel or Friedrich Gulda. I also favor more vehemence and forward impetus in the finale’s cross-rhythms than Kolesnikov allows. In the C minor Variations, Kolesnikov favors the kind of clearly-etched, high-relief passage work typifying Emil Gilels’ live 1969 Carnegie Hall recording. However, the younger pianist builds upon Gilels’ pianistic efficiency vis-à-vis stronger tempo relationships and transitions. Reservations aside, there’s much compelling music making afoot, not to mention Kolesnikov’s imaginative program building.