The Pianist Pavel Kolesnikov Makes a Rare Visit to New York

Few items within the piano repertoire are as revealing of a performer as Bach’s “Goldberg” Variations. With few indications of tempo or articulation, they drive fixed interpretation. It’s exhausting to consider a higher character check.

Except, maybe, programming. A pianist’s alternative of what to play will be extra illuminating than the efficiency itself. A recital would possibly give attention to a single composer or group collectively a few sonatas; however there’s additionally one other route, extra conceptual, of compiling one thing extra akin to a playlist.

Over two evenings at the Park Avenue Armory in Manhattan this week, the pianist Pavel Kolesnikov shared his artistry with each routes, with one live performance devoted to the “Goldbergs” and the opposite a moodily nocturnal collage impressed by Joseph Cornell’s assemblage “Celestial Navigation.”

Kolesnikov, a Russian-born pianist who lives in England, is at 34 already a stalwart of the London music scene. He has recorded the “Goldbergs” and performed them alongside the choreographer-performer Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. But he has been nearly absent from New York’s phases.

He shouldn’t be. His two Armory recitals exhibited pianism of poetic freedom, assured interpretive selections and a D.J.’s ear for refined musical connections.

His Bach was boldly argued — the type of efficiency that invitations disagreement however is defended so persuasively, even detractors can’t assist however recognize it. His tackle the “Goldbergs,” an Aria adopted by 30 variations and a return to the unique theme, was brazenly private, the rating extra like a coloring-book define crammed in with a palette of Kolesnikov’s creation.

In Bach’s mathematical development, the 32 actions are mirrored within the Aria’s 32 measures, that are break up into two 16-bar passages which can be each repeated — a construction that recurs all through. Like most pianists, Kolesnikov approached the primary run of every passage straightforwardly, with a readability that rendered the rating’s exact structure in vivid element.

On the repeat, nevertheless, he appeared to put that construction by way of a stress check. Near-constant pedalwork shaded phrases with anachronistic nuance. One variation would possibly bleed into one other, such because the closing G of the Fifth being held into the primary measure of the Sixth, which begins with the identical be aware; the Quodlibet variation emerged from a haze of sustained, hammered chords on the finish of the twenty ninth.

This was a studying of the “Goldbergs” too fashionable for purists of traditionally knowledgeable efficiency, but additionally removed from the slack indulgence of Lang Lang’s divisive recording. I didn’t keep in mind, till I returned to my notes for Kolesnikov’s second recital, that I had described his remedy of the Aria’s return as Chopinesque — which turned out to be simply the phrase to describe his program “Celestial Navigation (After Joseph Cornell).”

Cornell’s sculptural assemblage — a muted evocation of how people have made sense of the evening sky, with references to mythology and science — doesn’t precisely lend itself to musical translation in the best way that, say, a synesthetic portray by Kandinsky would. But Kolesnikov’s program is cleverly related in its juxtapositions, unlikely pairings united not in aesthetic or time however in one thing loftier.

It’s all the time refreshing to see musicians interacting with different mediums, and for Kolesnikov this isn’t even a first: He has additionally put collectively a recital impressed by Proust. As a conceptual thinker he resembles the pianist Vikingur Olafsson. But whereas Olafsson approaches programming like an essayist laying out a constellatory argument, Kolesnikov cultivates a temper. His efficiency on the Armory was a gathering of congenial poets.

At the guts of the night was a trio of suites that adopted a primary development: a Messiaen piano solo, a Chopin Nocturne and a fragmentary reprise of the Messiaen. Surrounding these have been a Pavane by Louis Couperin (not the extra well-known François); Ravel’s “Une Barque sur l’Océan”; and Thomas Adès’s Dowland-inspired “Darknesse Visible.” Then, within the second half, Kolesnikov closed with Schubert’s D. 935 Impromptus.

Covering practically 350 years of music historical past, these items couldn’t presumably belong to the identical sound world. But Kolesnikov nudged them as intently collectively as doable — once more making use of fashionable pedalwork to the Baroque, and utilizing Chopin as a stylistic anchor. The consequence was typically disorienting; Messiaen’s colours shone extra brightly, and Schubert leaned with blunter feelings towards the Romantic.

Kolesnikov’s blanket dreaminess lent a memory-like take away even to passages of storminess and, in one of many Chopin Nocturnes, a second of “I could have danced all night” bliss. These have been idiosyncratic interpretations in service of a better entire.

As within the “Goldbergs,” a few of this may very well be seen as sacrilege. Maybe. What is inarguable, although, is that given two alternatives to reveal himself to New York, Kolesnikov got here out and declared what sort of pianist he’s: fully, confidently, eloquently himself.

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