Victor Paukštelis in Review

Victor Paukštelis in Review

Victor Paukštelis, Piano
Presented by the Mikalojus Konstantinas Čiurlionis Foundation
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
September 27, 2015

A professional, balanced, and innovatively designed program should not be an anomaly in today’s concert world, yet it is. That is why the Lithuanian pianist Victor Paukštelis’ recent recital at Weill Recital Hall was such a refreshing and satisfying alternative to current practice, both in planning and execution.

In matters of interpretation, Mr. Paukštelis’ rather direct, uncluttered approach served as a perfect conduit for the majority of the music he chose. His greatest strengths are a natural, impeccable sense of rhythm, and a finely delineated dynamic range. His technical skills are honest and solid, never disproportionate to the music at hand, but capable of generating real heat when called for.

This was an evening of miniatures surrounding two larger showpieces, the Chopin Scherzo No. 1, Op. 30 and the Liszt Mephisto Waltz No. 1, S. 514. The program, blessedly without intermission, had internal logic and momentum. Works by two of the Baroque era’s most inventive keyboard composers, Domenico Scarlatti and Jean-Philippe Rameau, formed the musical and spiritual center of the concert. Scarlatti’s Sonatas, always welcome but infrequently chosen, were the pianist’s calling card. Three of these single movement gems were played consecutively, almost without pause, but with definition and expression. Mr. Paukštelis used both the sustain and soft pedals sparingly and intelligently. Scarlatti was a composer of great rhythmic propulsion and clarity, and unusual harmonic invention, and this was evident in these interpretations. When I hear Scarlatti played like this, I feel once more that he is a vastly underrated composer. Rameau, like Scarlatti, pushed the technical and interpretive boundaries of the harpsichord. In this concert, the pianist chose Rameau works which were more obviously programmatic, such as La Poule, and virtuosic showpieces like Les Tourbillons and Les Sauvages. This is Mr. Paukštelis’ métier, and he dispatched them brilliantly. His particular approach to the modern concert grand suggests that it would be great fun to hear his Rameau and Scarlatti on the instrument for which they were written.

The outward simplicity of Schumann’s Kinderszenen masks a wealth of interpretive detail. This pianist’s reading adhered faithfully to the printed tempi and dynamic markings, which are often contrary to one’s expectations. His approach revealed more spontaneity and fantasy than I normally associate with this cycle, especially in Fürchtenmachen and Bittendes Kind. The two most elegiac pieces, Träumerei and Der Dichter Spricht, were lean and restrained, and all the more affecting for it.

Though I admire greatly the architecture of Mr. Paukštelis’ programming, and the way in which he created relationships between music of different historical periods, I did feel that his Debussy Préludes were not given enough breathing room, sandwiched as they were between Schumann and Chopin. Canope (#10) and Feu D’Artifices (#12) from Book II were well played, but lacking the wider color palette that would have made them more vivid. These pieces are from a distinctly different sound world. Both the audience and the pianist could have used more time to let the ear rest in order to hear them freshly.

One of the great pleasures of this concert was hearing Mr. Paukštelis solve the mysteries of Weill Hall’s piano, and its acoustics. In more lyrical passages, he was able to produce a beautiful, velvety tone, notable especially in the middle section of the Chopin Scherzo, and in the calm before the storm at the finish of the Liszt Mephisto Waltz. But he when he was called upon to muster the pyrotechnics required in both those works, he never forced the sound. The ending of the Liszt was truly a remarkable display of controlled abandon.

In addition to being a gifted musician, Victor Paukštelis is also a painter of considerable talent and renown. I have seen his paintings, and they confirm my impression of him as a highly individual artist with a very clear vision. I look forward to hearing him again soon.