Review: 15 July 2021 – Pavel Kolesnikov: J S Bach Goldberg Variations BWV 988

Pavel Kolesnikov’s previous performance for the Concert Club in November 2019 was the last before most concerts had to be cancelled, so it was with a great sense of pleasure that we were at a live concert again. With the theatre only half-occupied because of social distancing rules, Pavel generously gave the concert twice in one day. The one work was Bach’s Goldberg Variations, but what a work – and what a performance!

When Pavel came onto the stage he seemed (to me) strikingly young. He wore modern clothes (fashionably short white trousers and a long white jacket in the afternoon, black in the evening). Then he started to play the familiar theme, and the delicacy, precision and complete assurance of his playing was immediately evident.

As Joseph Brand’s excellent notes explained, these variations were written for a two-manual harpsicord, so every piano performance is a transcription. One of the things which Pavel’s performance did was to create the feel of the harpsichord original – the Baroque sense of the music. He used a virtuosic mixture of detached and legato touch and a beautiful light but precise realisation of the profuse ornamentation which permeates the work.

But what Pavel added so thrillingly was the wonderful expressive capability of the Steinway grand piano. From fortissimo chords and fireworks to some of the quietest notes I have ever heard played on a piano, he exploited absolutely the full tonal range of the instrument. He made extensive use of rubato too – some of the sections were quite dreamy. His outstanding interpretation made it a performance I will never forget.

Malcolm Macleod

© 2021

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