Foundation of M. K. Čiurlionis presents Victor Paukštelis in Review

Foundation of M. K. Čiurlionis presents Victor Paukštelis in Review

Foundation of M. K. Čiurlionis presents Victor Paukštelis
Victor Paukštelis,piano
Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall, New York, NY
November 30, 2016


It is a pleasure to review the fine Lithuanian pianist Victor Paukštelis in what was his second New York concert at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall. Just last year he presented a recital in the same venue and was quite favorably reviewed by David La Marche for New York Concert Review (as the reader can see here: Review). I was delighted to find, after forming my own opinions, that Mr. La Marche and I had at least two strong points of agreement.

The first point is that Mr. Paukštelis possesses an admirable sense of architecture in the building of a program. That is no minor achievement. His sequence of selections was expertly conceived in terms of length, key, style, and emotion. On this occasion his opening of Handel’s Suite in E major (HWV. 430) established a tone of regal dignity and contemplation, inviting us to join his musical journey with confidence. (If this artist’s dual career as a pianist and painter had raised any questions about his ability to keep up with the monomaniacal pianists of today, any doubts were quickly dispelled.)

It made good sense to follow with Beethoven, one of Handel’s great admirers, and the flow was perfect key-wise to the Sonata Quasi Una Fantasia in C-sharp minor, Op. 27, No.2 (popularly called the “Moonlight Sonata”), which the pianist paced beautifully from its meditative start through to its stormy third-movement bursts.

Then, instead of intermission in this taut hour-long program, Mr. Paukštelis offered what amounted to a musical breather via three brief works by Estonian composer Arvo Pärt (b. 1935), the Variations for the Healing of Arinuschka, Für Alina, and Anna Maria. Those who know the style of Pärt (sometimes called a “holy minimalist”) know that it can transport a listener to another universe through sheer purity of tone and texture, so these works were in effect their own “intermission” (sans chattering crowds) – an ingenious touch. The pianist played all three with refinement and sensitivity.

One was then ready to be swept up in the Romanticism of Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 in G minor and Scriabin’s mystical and fiery Sonata No. 5, Op. 53 for a close. The dramatic trajectory was perfect, and it was all a captivating musical journey just shy of an hour, not including four encores (a good fifteen minutes worth).

My second point of agreement with the prior New York review is that Mr. Paukštelis is (as David La Marche aptly states) “a highly individual artist with a very clear vision.” A testament to this pianist’s strong individuality of conception is that he gave a feeling of newness and energy to works which are anything but new (with the exception of the Pärt). The Handel is a four-movement suite closing with a set of five variations on one of Handel’s most famous themes (known as the “Harmonious Blacksmith”). In the wrong hands it can sound stale, but Mr. Paukštelis, though his attentive articulations, strong sense of shape, and most of all deep connection to the music, gave it a bold energy that made it feel new.

The Handel wasn’t the only one of the evening’s selections belonging to that paradoxical category of works “so overdone that no one does them.” Beethoven’s “Moonlight” Sonata, attempted by nearly every intermediate piano student, falls squarely in this category, but the artistic Mr. Paukštelis breathed life into it it from its dreamy Adagio sostenuto to the gracious Allegretto and the impassioned Presto agitato. His playing had involvement, insight, and intensity. Though I had very few quibbles (including perhaps an excessive pedal blur in the last movement chromatic scale), criticisms seem moot in the light of such a persuasive conception.

Chopin’s Ballade in G minor, another top-ten list piece for pianists, followed suit – remarkably expressive in this pianist’s hands, but without the gnashing of teeth and histrionics that it sometimes arouses. It was thoughtfully conceived and held the audience rapt.

Among reservations, this listener prefers a deeper, fuller sound at Chopin’s peaks, some of which were a tad brittle. Similarly, in Scriabin’s Op. 53, one wanted to feel a bit more unleashing of power and abandon, where the emphasis seemed instead to be on precise articulation. Again, though, there did seem to be integrity and intelligence behind just about every decision.

Though it seems nitpicky to comment on administrative details, Mr. Paukštelis deserved to have had biographical notes that are in clearer English without so many typographical errors. He filled a hall amply with responsive listeners and will surely fill it more next time. He deserves to be well presented.

Standing ovations were met with several encores including Chopin’s Scherzo in B minor, Op. 20, the Tambourin from the Suite in E minor by Rameau, and the Sarabande from the English Suite in G minor. I look forward to hearing this pianist again.


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.