Evgeny Kissin - worth the 24-year wait

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Evgeny Kissin - worth the 24-year wait

Post by Ricordanza » Mon May 09, 2022 7:54 pm

Virtual concerts are better than no concerts at all. YouTube offers a huge variety of performances for the classical music lover. But there is still no substitute for a live concert, especially when the audience reaction—with the performer feeding off the energy of the audience—is an essential part of the event. That’s what I experienced at the recital by pianist Evgeny Kissin on Friday night, May 6th, in Verizon Hall, Philadelphia.

I’ve been waiting 24 years for the chance to hear this celebrated pianist in concert again. I last heard him play on a Sunday afternoon, April 26, 1998, at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark, New Jersey. A glance at the program, which I saved, showed that he concluded the recital with that monument of Romantic pianism, the Liszt B Minor Sonata, and I still remember it as a breathtaking performance.

In the years since that time, Kissin has sometimes received mixed reviews, both from professional reviewers as well as in on-line forums. In his effort to craft individual performances, they say, he has often gone overboard with his idiosyncrasies, especially in tempo choices. But there’s never been a question of his complete mastery of the piano. In more recent years, some of the criticism has abated. So I was anxious to hear for myself how this now 50-year-old pianist would perform in recital.

He began with a work familiar to Philadelphians, but in an unfamiliar format. Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, BMV 565, originally written for organ, was famously orchestrated by Leopold Stokowski, and shows up from time to time on Philadelphia Orchestra programs. Less well known is the piano transcription by Carl Tausig, which Kissin presented. While a few passages were over-pedaled, Kissin effectively conveyed the grandeur of this work.

Mozart’s Adagio in B Minor, K. 540, is a gem. It somehow combines simplicity of melody and complexity of structure to produce a work of uncommon beauty. Kissin’s rendition of this work was flawless.

Kissin’s performance of the late Beethoven Sonata, Op. 110, was received enthusiastically by the audience—for good reason. I thought there were some questionable interpretive choices in the opening movement, particularly with regard to tempo, but all was forgiven by the concluding movement. Kissin’s playing of the two fugues was incredible—his ability to articulate voices in contrapuntal passages is unsurpassed. It was a performance to remember.

During intermission, I walked around the lobby of the Kimmel Center, hoping to overhear audience impressions. I did overhear several conversations but I can’t report on the content, because most of them were in Russian. Not that surprising, since Philadelphia has a large contingent of Russian immigrants.

Kissin first came to international attention when, at age 12, he performed both of Chopin’s concertos in a single Moscow concert, and the recording of that concert found its way to lots of folks around the world, including me. Given his longstanding identification with this composer, it was not surprising that the second half of Friday’s program was all Chopin. This was yet another opportunity to show that Kissin is in the top rank of Chopin interpreters. Seven Mazurkas were scintillating and graceful, delivered with just the right touch. The concluding work, the Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Brilliante, Op. 22, was written by Chopin to show off his virtuosity, and Kissin was no less a showman in his performance of this work.

Standing ovations are common these days, but the response of the audience on Friday night was as enthusiastic as I have ever heard at a piano recital. Again and again, the audience called for Kissin to come back to the stage (I won’t say curtain calls, since there’s no curtain at Verizon Hall), and Kissin rewarded the audience with four encores: a Bach/Busoni Chorale Prelude; Mozart’s Rondo in C Major; Chopin’s “Heroic” Polonaise; and a Chopin Waltz.

All I can say is that it was worth the 24-year wait.

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