Every once in a while, an artist comes onto the scene and, without media fanfare, creates music that brings an audience to its feet in appreciation. On Saturday, April 6, Russian pianist Maxim Pakhomov's playing made that happen for a large audience at First Congregational Church in Darien. It's an acoustically graceful space, if not a vast one, with a superb piano. Concerts are presented there several times a year.

Pakhomov plays with astonishing power and virtuosity, yet he can coax sweet, delicate moments from his fingers as well. He is the principal pianist with the Bronx Orchestra and has performed in Europe, Russia and the United States.

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He opened his program with two Preludes by Johann Sebastian Bach, arranged by Ferruccio Busoni. The first was gentle and contemplative, the second bright and joyous, with effervescent decoration. In both preludes, the chorale melody was clear, played with singing tone.

The second piece was the ferociously intricate Fantasy in C Minor, Opus 15 C major by Franz Schubert, a wonderful piece. In four sections that melded into each other, this demanding piece was one of brilliant light and deep shadow, especially the set of variations on a brief theme of one of Schubert's own songs. Pakhomov brought out all the romantic nuance contained in this music so that one heard what the music was conveying, without being conscious of the remarkable technique required to play it.

After a brief intermission, we were treated to the Andante Spianato and Grand Polonaise Brilliante by Fredric Chopin. This is a well-known piece, and in his verbal program notes, Pakhomov mentioned that the two sections were written six years apart, the Polonaise having been finished first. The two go together beautifully, as it happens. The Andante is delicate, lovely music, which sets up the brilliance of the Polonaise. Again, the technical skill enabled the music to shine.

The final piece was a charmer, and beautifully played. It was a setting for four hands of the Overture to Felix Mendelssohn's "A Midsummer Night's Dream" arranged by the composer (probably for himself and his sister, Fanny, also an accomplished pianist and composer), and after all the fire and dash of Schubert and Chopin, it was a perfect finale. The contrasts of delicacy and wit displayed in the transcription were as satisfying as the full orchestral setting. The assisting guest artist was Mira Ma, and she and Pakhomov enjoyed playing this as much as the audience did listening. They offered an encore, again J.S. Bach, "Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring."

Pakhomov plays with joy and style and a deep sense of the soul within the music. He embodies these qualities in his playing, but is also blessed with the ability to communicate them to his audience, and let us in to his world.

Arden Anderson-Broecking, professional singer and musician, is a music critic and feature writer living in Fairfield County.