Victor Paukstelis, a Lithuanian pianist who is also a painter, is known for incorporating both mediums in his concerts. His deep connection to music and art was evident from his Carnegie Hall recital from last year entitled ‘A Recital of Restless Paintings’, an interdisciplinary concert program that was received with success.
The program for Wednesday evening was a mix of the familiars such as Beethoven Moonlight Sonata, Op. 27, No. 2 and the Chopin Ballade No. 1, Op. 23 as well as the lesser familiar miniatures by Arvo Pärt, a modern living composer regarded as more esoteric than mainstream, but nonetheless considered the most widely performed living composer today. When premiering a new work or performing works by a lesser mainstream composer, it is definitely wise to include familiar standards as means to introduce new works to a diverse audience. Mr. Paukstelis did just this by delivering a thoughtful, balanced and comprehensive program of music spanning from the baroque to the 21st century.
Mr. Paukstelis opened his recital with a Handel Suite No. 5 in E Major, HWV 430, a work that is heard less frequently in concerts than Bach piano suites. The piece is also known as the ‘Harmonious Blacksmith’, a name given to describe the final movement, ‘Air and Variations’, a reference to an ambiguous figure who made an impression on Handel
during his time in London. This large-scale baroque work in four movements (Prelude, Courant, Allemande, and Air), poses a challenge to pianists as with all works from the baroque period, since a slightest mistake such as playing a wrong note can stand out like a sore thumb to the listener. It’s one of Handel’s significant piano works published when Handel was around thirty years old. Victor gave a solid and polished account of this work and conveyed Handel’s youthful and vibrant energy well.
After a glorious start with Handel, the rest of the program was a mix of serious, somber, dramatic, melancholic and heroic moments. Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata served as a fitting stylistic contrast to the overall program. I would say that Mr. Paukstelis’s adherence to the score is more flexible than strict due to his interpretation being more on the personal side. There were some unexpected surprises in pedaling and articulation that weren’t exactly what I was used to. Depending on whether the listener is a purist who likes to adhere to the score or not, a listener can have varying degrees of preference since music is subjective. I found his interpretation tastefully rendered and emotionally satisfying.
When it came to the works by Arvo Pärt, I was reminded of some of Mr. Paukstelis’s paintings with angular, asymmetrical faces reminiscent of Pablo Picasso, evoking an aura that is mysterious, eery, dark and nostalgic. Mr. Paukstelis had mentioned in his interview that he liked to listen to Pärt’s music while painting. There were some beautiful, precious and intimate moments captured in these miniatures. My particular favorite was ‘Variations for the Healing of Arinushka’, a work of minimalism with a hypnotic opening based on an A minor triad. These miniatures have an Eastern European flavor, reflecting on the roots of both Victor Paukstelis (Lithuania) and Arvo Pärt (Estonia). Mr. Paukstelis ‘s affinity towards Pärt’s works were displayed with warmth and maturity. These miniatures are certainly rare gems on today’s concert stage as they are not played so often.
The reading of the Chopin Ballade No. 1 in G minor was full of passion, poeticism and lyrical passages, marking Mr. Paukstelis as a ‘Chopinesque’ pianist as well. Scriabin Sonata No. 5, Op. 53 was delivered with fire, drama, and devilish technique. The recital brought audience to a standing ovation followed by four encores. I look forward to hearing more of Victor in the coming years.