In 2016, the London-based Russian pianist Pavel Kolesnikov released a CD of 24 mazurkas by Chopin and I ended my review by lauding it as ‘one of the most appealing Chopin discs I’ve ever come across’. For me, the recording established the pianist's credentials as a top-notch Chopin player, so I approached this latest offering with keen anticipation. Kolesnikov's rise to popularity since his spectacular win in Canada’s Honens International Piano Competition in 2012 has landed him a prestigious contract with Hyperion, and by my reckoning this is his fifth album for the label. Meanwhile, he has been described as a storyteller and poet of the keyboard and a pianist of unique individuality.
Carefully considered and well-managed, this intelligently planned programme mirrors the sort of thing Kolesnikov does in his recitals. I witnessed this for my myself at the International Ribble Valley Piano Week back in 2018. The sequencing of the Chopin pieces appears reasoned. The four impromptus provide a stabilizing structure around which groups of pieces, waltzes and mazurkas coalesce.
The romantically-themed middle section of the Fantasy Impromptu, Op 66 is seasoned with one or two very attractive improvised embellishments of which, I am sure Chopin would have approved, while the recording of the Impromptu No 2 in F sharp major, Op 36 is the finest I have ever heard and a high point on the disc. The hymn-like opening looks forward to the Berceuse. The radiant voicing of chords at bar 30 and the diaphanous filigree in the preceding bar are magical, and the demisemiquavers at bar 82 are pearl-like.
The selection of waltzes begins with Op 69 No 1, often referred to as ‘The Farewell Waltz’ or ‘Valse de l'adieu’. Adopting a slower tempo than most in the first section, Kolesnikov gives a real feel of regret and nostalgia to this performance, with a ray of hope in the cheerful second part. Op 70 No 3 is one of my favorites and I love the way Kolesnikov eloquently shapes that gorgeous left-hand melody from bar 33. Two contrasting rarities follow without a break, the sprightly posthumous A flat waltz, and the doleful Sostenuto in the E flat waltz. Listening to these four waltzes makes me hope that the pianist will set down a full cycle sometime in the future.
There's a group of nine mazurkas which complement Kolesnikov’s release alluded to in the beginning of my review. Rhythmic elasticity, metric freedom, myriad colour and subtle, tastefully applied rubato add up to a winning combination. Op 30 No 4 is one of the lengthiest and most substantial the composer ever penned. It is also one of the most, if not the most, technically demanding of the mazurkas. Stylized and audacious, its florid gestures and rhythmic variety give it a narrative quality. Kolesnikov has the work at his fingertips. The arpeggiated chords at the start are cleanly and crispy articulated, mimicking a guitar's fandango rhythms. Op 41 No 1 demonstrates the pianist’s gift for creating an overarching structure. From simple beginnings, the work opens out into grandiose octave chords, only to die away as it began. Melancholy and deep sadness imbue the forlorn F minor Mazurka Op 63 No 2.
The large-scaled Fantasy in F minor is given a dramatically assured reading, imaginatively structured and dispatched with virtuosic brilliance.
For this recording Kolesnikov chose a Yamaha CFX piano, a well-regulated instrument with a striking range of sonority and colour, ideal for this composer's music. The Concert Hall, Wyastone Estate provides the perfect ambiance of intimacy and warmth. All in all, Chopin playing doesn't get much better than this.