Refinement and commanding artistry from Calidore Quartet
Dominion-Chalmers United Church
Frédéric Chopin: Mazurkas in A minor, Opus 68, no. 2, in B-flat major, Opus 17, no. 1, & in C-sharp minor, Opus 50, no. 3
Robert Schumann: Fantasie in C major, Opus 17
Dmitri Shostakovich: Piano Quintet in G minor, Opus 57
Pavel Kolesnikov (piano)
Calidore String Quartet: Jeffrey Myers, Ryan Meehan (violin), Jeremy Berry (viola), Estelle Choi (cello)
P. Kolesnikov (© Colin Way)
In its sixth season, the Calidore String Quartet is solidly established as one of the finest string quartets and chamber groups anywhere. Their performance this week for Ottawa’s Chamberfest of Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G minor, assisted by pianist Pavel Kolesnikov – another fast emerging talent – at once demonstrated why. Indeed, this was playing of such refinement, command and artistry that every audience member recognized they were hearing something unique and special. The Quintet of course is a wonderfully, rich work, often redolent of the nineteenth century, but also modern and playful.
After the richly energetic, declamatory opening Prelude, the players launched into the elaborate, lyrical Fugue movement that is almost a single, sustained crescendo (even inviting comparison with Ravel’s Boléro) and often featuring delicate exchanges among the players; an extended duo with the two violinists was particularly beautiful. The ensuing Scherzo is very Russian in mood and detail, decidedly redolent of Prokofiev in “busy” mode. The Intermezzo again is a gem of complex lyricism, leading directly to the Finale which, after a polyrhythmic start soon morphed into a stately dance, arguably a Polonaise in quarter time, and ending quietly and delicately as if guests finally are leaving an elegant ball. Composed and premiered in 1940, when Shostakovich already was experiencing being politically out of favor with Communist Party officials, including Stalin, the work became a huge success, even winning the Stalin Prize in 1941.
The Calidore Quartet met the work’s riches and challenges with what can be described only as total mastery. They were capably assisted by Pavel Kolesnikov, Russian born and now living in London, who often did a good job of matching the string players’ range and dynamic subtlety.
Kolesnikov was much less impressive in solo works which had been the evening’s first half, leaving the impression he requires stimulation and direction from others to do his best – if a time machine were available I’d send him back fifty years to study with Ilona Kabos, doyenne of London piano mentors in those days and celebrated for her ability to zero in quickly (and often, ruthlessly) on a new student’s limitations. Some of Kolesnikov’s problems can be attributed to the woolly acoustics of Dominion-Chalmers Church, as well as a new Steinway provided by The Steinway Gallery in Toronto, which sounded more like a 1970s Yamaha well past its shelf life.
In a group of Chopin Mazurkas, then Schumann’s epic Fantasy in C major, Kolesnikov’s playing was consistently dry, often rushed, and overall characterized by the kind of throwaway phrasing I’d expect from Lang Lang, or even Liberace decades ago. He did show a commendable sense of inner voicing, which is central to both composers, but this wasn’t sufficient to indicate major artistry or even personality. Technically, Kolesnikov’s performance was competent, and he managed the fearsome leaps in the Schumann’s second movement well enough, though not at the breakneck speed only a few pianists can handle. Also, Kolesnikov did seem to warm a bit to the lyrical final movement. However overall, this was a performance that left this reviewer, at least, wanting much more.
Charles Pope Jr.