Russia’s Pavel Kolesnikov delivers intimate guest recital.

Calling Russian pianist Pavel Kolesnikov a talented instrumentalist would simply not do justice to the tantalizing performance he gave at Brunton Auditorium last Friday. This rising star of classical music serenaded audience members with collection of pieces for solo piano that showcased both his musical excellence and his alluring mercurial personality.

Born in Novosibirsk, Russia in 1989, Kolesnikov has been playing violin and piano since the age of six. He has quickly distinguished himself as one of the world’s most critically-acclaimed up-and-coming musicians, and in 2012, he was honourably named Canada’s Honens Prize Laureate for piano. He has appeared in the National Philharmonic of Russia, and will debut with the London Philharmonic in October of this year. Kolesnikov’s first studio recording, which is a testament to the works of Peter Tchaikovsky, is set to be released by Hyperion Records this coming May.

Although Kolesnikov himself described the evening’s program as “a bit random,” he assured the audience that his selections of Jean-Philippe Rameau, Claude Debussy, and Frédéric Chopin were deliberate and intricately related. He expertly contrasted the Baroque with the later Modern and Romantic pianists, and identified the changing musical concerns throughout these periods that made each composer famous. From the delightfully convivial flair of Rameau to the imagistic nature of Debussy and the deep introspection of Chopin, Kolesnikov mapped the evolving subjects of each composer in a way that was recognizable and enjoyable.

Despite this broad spectrum of musical genres, Kolesnikov’s own unique personality shone through in each performance. What was immediately evident was his own intimate relationship with his chosen pieces: after admitting that Rameau is one of his favourites, Kolesnikov demonstrated this by brilliantly capturing the calculated elegance of the French composer’s “Gavotte avec Six Doubles.” While Baroque can often sound a bit stiff and pretentious to some, the interpretative nature of the composition allowed Kolesnikov to lace the piece with his own modesty and genuineness that made it accessible to the whole audience.

As the pianist moved into his Debussy selection with his interpretation of “Reflets dans l’eau,” Kolesnikov’s true musical eloquence was realized as he navigated the complex piece with effortlessness and fluidity. The evening’s post-intermission section was comprised solely of Chopin, which allowed Kolesnikov to fully explore the depth and innovative power of this famous Polish composer. The first two Nocturnes were generally well-executed, if a bit dozy, but thankfully they were succeeded by a magnificent performance of the triumphant “Sonata No. 3 in B Minor.” The audience eagerly leapt to their feet in applause as the glorious chords of the finale rang out through the hall, prompting the pianist to play a brief and delicate encore piece.

If there’s one thing that separates a passionate musician from a mediocre one, it is the tendency to animate oneself in accordance with a piece—something that Kolesnikov does continually, letting the audience know that there is an interesting and complex human being beneath all the formalities of a concert setting. It is sometimes difficult to become acquainted with a musician within the short time constraints of a single concert, but Kolesnikov’s graceful and sincere performance proved that music truly is a wordless projection of the self.

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