Every so often, a musical gift comes at a time when we need one, what with a long, cold, white winter finally ending, and a change of time to confuse our body clocks.

Last Saturday evening, at the Congregational Church in Darien, pianist Maxim Pakhomov gave that gift, a concert on the church's beautiful Boesendorfer piano, (a treasure, by the way).

He opened with three of Felix Mendelssohn's "Songs Without Words," "The Fleecy Clouds," "Elegy" and "Spinning Song." They are exactly that. Each had a lyrical melodic line over what is actually an accompaniment. The first of them was delicate and charming, the second thoughtfully gentle, and the third, actually the most familiar, lacy and full of energy.

He then played Beethoven's Sonata No. 14 in C# minor, the formal name of the "Moonlight" sonata. There was plenty of moonlight in the playing of the first movement, and the second Allegretto was cheerful, and in places, dance-like. The third movement is a whole other story. I couldn't help wondering, after years of hearing this piece, if there might not have been an unhappy love story behind this music. The final presto agitato, was more than agitated, it absolutely rages, with fiery arpeggios, melodic lines that shout, occasional pulling back, as if trying to calm down, but to no avail. The rage returns.

Now, banging out a lot of wild, loud notes is one thing, but it takes a true artist to play this sonata fully with all the dynamic nuance, intelligence, and power, repressed and overt, not to mention superb technique. Pakhomov has all of this, but it's all in the hands and the heart. There are no in-vogue physical histrionics, just the music, which is what it's all about anyway. That showed again in Chopin's Scherzo, Opus 31 in B-flat minor.

A "scherzo" is supposed to be light and amusing, but forget that. Fairly familiar, this piece, in the hands of a pianist like Pakhomov, spares the hearer nothing. There are quiet moments, but not namby-pamby, more like pauses when one has to catch a few breaths, then takes off again. It was a brilliant performance.

After intermission, Pakhomov played Maurice Ravel's impressionistic piece, "Jeux d'eau," full of rippling cascades and fountains of notes.

As a final piece, we heard Edvard Grieg's Sonata for Violincello and Piano in A minor, with accomplished guest cellist Teresa Kubiak. In three movements, marked Allegro agitato, Andante molto tranquillo, and Allegro, this is a technical tour-de-force for both instruments as well as an emotional roller coaster.

There were some thematic hints of his more famous piano concerto in the same key, actually, but they fit. Grieg's particular vocabulary sounds Scandinavian, no matter how romantic he is, plenty of fire and ice, which probably equals the passion that lived in his soul. This performance was white-hot, music that kept the hearer guessing and wanting more. Encores by Camille Saint-Saens and Franz Liszt were welcome dividends!

Pakhomov has an impressive list of credits, and undoubtedly will be heard more and more. He is also organist and resident pianist at the Congregational Church. We should count our musical blessings.

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