Dallas — One of the joys of attending the Blue Candlelight Music Series concerts is that you get to encounter artists that you otherwise wouldn’t know about. On Feb. 18, the listeners experienced the remarkable pianist, Pavel Nersessian. Known for his versatility, he played a wide-ranging program of works that don’t usually make it into recital programs.
Nersessian is a product of the Moscow Tchaikovsky Conservatoire. He started out as a pupil of the famous Central Music School of the Conservatoire, graduated with honors and is now a professor there. In 2013 he became a professor of piano at Boston University.
He opened his program with two works by C.P.E. Bach, the fifth child and second surviving son of the master, J. S. Bach. (He was known as the Berlin Bach to differentiate him from his brother, known as the London Bach.)
Nersessian amply demonstrated the drastic change of style that occurred between the times of father and son. The Classical era was in full swing and Nersessian brought out the influence of Haydn in the performance of C.P.E. Bach’s Rondo in G major and a Sonata in F minor. He closed the set with a Minuet.
Nersessian was right at home playing Beethoven’s Fantasia in G Minor, Op. 77. This work, above all others of the composer’s output, gives modern-day audiences a hint at what a formidable improviser he must have been. Nersessian gave the work enough freedom to almost imagine that he too was improvising.
From this, Nersessian moved to an American composer, Samuel Barber, and his Excursions, Op. 20, which also has an improvisatory nature.
Nersessian played the first three of the four movements of the work. It was fascinating to hear this Russian-trained pianist so at home in Barber’s purposeful American medium with the influences of everything from the blues to the harmonica.
From there, Nersessian moved into the cocktail lounge. Well, not really. In one of the great ironies of contemporary music, the compositions of Nikolai Girshevich Kapustin use the harmonic language of piano bars. He proves that it is not the style a composer uses but the skill in which they handle it. Once again, Nersessian’s ability to make the music sound like it was being newly created came to the fore with Kapustin’s Suite in the Old Style, Op. 28.
Nersessian closed his program with some music that definitely did not sound improvised. It was an arrangement of 10 pieces from Prokofiev’s masterful ballet Romeo and Juliet. Here, Nersessian demonstrated the mastery of technique that won him numerous competitions, put him on distinguished faculties and has brought him to international fame. One hardly missed the orchestration as he played this famous music.
It was a remarkable evening of music-making. From classical mastery to quasi-improvisation to quasi-orchestral selections, Nersessian proved to be a master.