Review: Pavel Kolesnikov at Aldeburgh Festival 2023


Pavel Kolesnikov’s Aldeburgh Festival concert of Couperin, Messiaen, Ravel and Schubert was less solo recital and more theatrical experiment.

Walking through a darkened auditorium and stepping on to the stage in silhouette against a project video backdrop of crashing waves on Snape Maltings Concert Hall’s exposed brickwork wall, Kolesnikov cut an a lonely figure – part magician part musician – sitting down with his back to the audience performing fragments and pieces from the keyboard repertoire including Couperin’s Pavanne in F sharp minor, Messiaen’s Regard de l’etoile, his 1964 Prelude, and Une baruqe sur l’ocean from Miroirs by Ravel. To conclude the first half Thomas Ades Darknesse Visible from 1992.

The video projections by Sophie Hicks Architects might have at first appeared like a gimmick – a way of softening the edges of an unfamiliar programme. In practice, they promoted a greater sense of focus, drawing closer attention to the sounds generated by Kolesnikov. Crashing waves, an emerging sunrise and a dwindling sunset crawling slowly across the backwall of the Concert Hall was a meditative experience in itself. The concluding sequence of the world (or was it the moon? I’m not sure) seen from space accompanied by Ades ‘Darknesse Visible’ a haunting process that sometimes prompted us to confront our collective responsibility to the planet. The dwindling light dropped eventually to blackness – the only time I’ve ever experienced being in Snape Maltings Concert Hall with 900 other people in complete darkness and silence. An arresting way to send people off to interval drinks.

In the second half, Schubert’s Four Impromptus D 935, each interspersed by text selected by playwright Martin Krimp. Here the piano might as well have been repositioned in its usual conventional position. With no back projections of the kind we had in the first half the sound sometimes felt muffled and detail lost.

There was story no doubt, created by seeing only Kolesnikov’s back. It was as though we were surreptitiously observing the pianist in rehearsal, sneakily watching from afar when we weren’t supposed to be there. In this way there was a sense we were watching an illusionist commanding the sound from the instrument before him. When I came to applaud at the end for what was riveting musicianship, I wasn’t entirely sure whether I was applauding him or merely the novel concert experience.  

Pavel Kolesnikov reprises the music in this concert at Cheltenham Festival on 15 July.

Pictures: Patrick Young