TCHAIKOVSKY: The Seasons; Six Morceaux – Pavel Kolesnikov, piano – Hyperion

TCHAIKOVSKY: The Seasons, Op. 37b; Six Morceaux, Op. 19 – Pavel Kolesnikov, piano – Hyperion CDA68028, 75:31 (6/2/14) [Distr. by Harmonia mundi] ****:

Winner of the 2012 Honens Prize in Piano, Pavel Kolesnikov (b. 1989) has become noted for his lyrical approach to the keyboard, his ability at musical evocation of character and charm in the repertory he champions. The survey of 1876-1877 The Months cycle has become relatively standard, while a complete reading of the 1873 Six Morceaux remains a rarer occasion. Kolesnikov sets the musing, gentle tone of the G Minor Reverie du soir (Andante espressivo) of Op. 19 as a contemplation in the Schumann style. The major mode central section casts a liquid film over a melancholy evocation of Russian soul.  The D Major Scherzo humoristique (Allegro vivacacissimo) calls on Kolesnikov’s fleet fingers that erupt and then halt, grazioso, for some balletic gestures. The so-called Feuillet d’album (Allegretto simplice) reads like a gifted amateur’s piece of 66 measures, much of them staccato and pertly martial. The ensuing Nocturne in C-sharp Minor (Andante sentimentale) reigned as the set’s most popular piece, and Tchaikovsky re-cast the warmly affectionate work for cello and orchestra in 1888. Kolesnikov’s capacity to project intimacy shines in the Capriccioso in B-flat Major (Allegretto semplice), which belies its ‘capricious’ character until an outburst, Allegro vivacissimo, sends the fur flying. The longest entry, Theme original et variations in F Major, is dedicated to critic Hermann Laroche. The theme crosses hymn and plaintive folksong, and gives birth to a colorful ensemble of twelve characters, of which the penultimate has the marking alla Schumann, if there were any doubts about Tchaikovsky’s muse.  In spite of Tchaikovsky’s flighty and lyrical aesthetic, the sensibility of Schumann’s Op. 13 Symphonic Etudes insinuates itself with an occasional bravura sequence or academic appearance of a fugal episode.

Tchaikovsky’s own estimate – typically self-effacing – of his The Months cycle calls them “pancakes, quickly tossed and served.” Publisher Nikolai Bernard thought well of them, their charm, character, and natural melodiousness instantly agreeable, whether or not the “program” aspects of their titles (and accompanying poems) prove relevant. While the level of performance remains less than a virtuoso’s demands, a piece like Fevrier: Carnaval (Allegro giusto) has Kolesnikov’s fingers active in alternately potent chords and fleetly sweeping runs. Conversely, the “Lark’s song” of Mars becomes intimately pantheistic, with its pecking and strutting staccatos and plaintive melody. Kolesnikov’s rendering of Mai: Les nuits de mai (Andantino) conveys a poignant sentiment, certainly as authentic as anything in Grieg. The famous Juin: Barcarolle (Andante cantabile) would hardly justify the title, given the fragile melos of the whole, except for the vaguely “Venetian” character of the Kolesnikov’s middle section. With July and August, the demands upon Kolesnikov’s bravura skills increase, especially for the left hand of “The Harvest” of August, clearly a Russian’s homage to scherzando Mendelssohn. Syncopated horn calls permeate Septembre, which could easily pass for a Schumann maerchen. A doloroso month of October leads us into Rachmaninov’s favorite, Novembre (Troika), with its plastic, shimmering octaves. The horses’ bells jangle in a sea of light. Finally, Decembre and its lovely waltzes, as young girls line up to have their fortunes told. Ingenuous and forever charming, Kolesnikov suggests that the composer could be too hasty a judge of his genius.

—Gary Lemco

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