Honens Laureate impresses with a surfeit of musicality and poetic imagination.
Women’s Musical Club of Toronto: Pavel Kolesnikov at Walter Hall. Thursday, May 5.
For Toronto piano fans, the cup truly runneth over these days. Last week, we had “The Battle of the Lucases” — I’m of course referring to Frenchman Lucas Debargue and Russian-Lithuanian Lukas Geniušas in a duo recital at Koerner Hall. This week we have two more fantastic young pianists in the person of Russian Pavel Kolesnikov and Chinese Haochen Zhang. Today was Kolesnikov’s turn. He gave a scintillating recital at Walter Hall that closed the 2015-16 season of the Women’s Musical Club of Toronto.
Born in Novosibirsk, Siberia in 1989, Kolesnikov started piano and violin lessons at the age of six. He studied at the Moscow Conservatory in 2007 and later at the Royal College of Music in London. He won the first prize in the Gilels International Piano Competition and the Jury Prize at the Tchaikovsky Competition. In 2012, he won first prize at the Honens Competition in Calgary, with the extraordinarily rich prize of $100,000. He has since won critical and audience accolades for his playing at important venues the likes of Wigmore Hall and Carneige (Zankel) Hall. In Canada, he has performed at the Vancouver Chamber Society, Ottawa Chamber Festival, Banff Summer Festival, as well as with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra.
Kolesnikov played an interesting program this afternoon of CPE Bach, Beethoven, Chopin, and Debussy. Not only is he a terrific pianist, he’s also very well spoken. Addressing the audience before the recital, his little speech combining gentle humour with sincerity drew gales of laughter from the large crowd at Walter Hall. He explained that the seemingly disparate pieces on the program were chosen with a specific purpose in mind — to trace chronologically the development of coloristic writing for the piano. He began with the Sonata in A Major by CPE Bach, playing with enviable fluidity and clarity, fleetness of fingers and lightness of touch.
That initial impression was confirmed with the Beethoven Sonata No. 10 in G Major. Very impressive was the Scherzo, dispatched with a felicitous combination of technical virtuosity, elegant phrasing and quixotic playfulness. His interesting and rather unique hand and arm movements were positively mesmerising. If there was a fly in the ointment, it was the overly enthusiastic audience, with a few people breaking out in premature applause on several occasions. Unfortunately, it was also a rather sickly audience, with a surfeit of coughing and other extraneous noises. But I was determined to stay focused — nothing was going to deter me from hearing this extraordinary pianist.
He followed the Beethoven with Scherzo No. 4 in E major by Chopin, perhaps the composer whose work for which Kolesnikov is best known. I was really struck by his uncommon authority, vivid expression, and a genuine sense of poetic imagination. But I was not prepared for the second half, which turned out to be the centerpiece — the Debussy Preludes Book 1. I was not expecting to be blown away by his Debussy. For forty minutes, he held the audience spellbound with marvellously evocative and imaginative playing. His way with “La fille aux cheveux de lin” and “La cathédrale engloutie” was magical. Here I was, sitting there, hearing the sounds coming from the stage, and all I could see in my mind’s eye were Monet’s paintings, particularly the Rouen Cathedral and the Sunrise canvases. The audience was ecstatic. It was a recital that I won’t soon forget.