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Mr. Kissin's Multifarious Moods

New York
Isaac Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall
11/03/2015 -  November 6, 2015
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Sonata in C Major, K. 330
Ludwig van Beethoven: Piano Sonata No. 23 in F Minor, "Appassionata", Opus 57
Johannes Brahms: Three Intermezzos, Op. 117
Isaac Albéniz: Suite española, opus 47: "Granada", "Cádiz" & "Asturias" – Cantos de Espana, opus 232: "Córdoba"
Joaquín Larregla: Viva Navarra!

Evgeny Kissin (Pianist)

E. Kissin (© Sheila Rock)

We must thank the Guardian Spirits of Manhattan for Evegny Kissin. Like that so-rare houseguest who can never stay long enough, he will be with us for many months to come. Moreover, he is branching out into language, poetry, stories, as well as orchestral and solo recitals. The details are offered in the Coda.

First, though, one inevitably must compare Mr. Kissin to Sir András Schiff, who had given his own recital three nights previously. Simply–or, more likely, simplistically–Mr. Schiff is Apollonian. His Mozart and Beethoven did have their little quirks, but basically, he visualized the entire organic work. His respect and his truths were worthy of awe, his playing had a sometimes supernatural beauty.

Mr. Kissin is Dionysus. His excitement can be infectious. He can rip through the quickest movements with bliss or elation, but it is always with joy.

And last night, he offered a recital displaying two very different sides of Mr. Kissin. The first half was exciting, extrovert, glittering, dancing. The second half was one of silences: moods, reminiscences, the dark side of Mr. Kissin’s planet. The paradox was that this moody side came from Iberian music, which is usually glittering dance. Mr. Kissin, though, change the paradigms.

The opening Mozart was the glittering part. With his fabulous technique, he could have simply run through the lines. But he had his surprises. The trills had their own character. For those five upward notes, repeated in the first movement, his fingers barely grazed the keys: he didn’t play the music, he performed a Fred Astaire leap in space. The second part of the Andante, usually played with great depth, was taken lightly, for the sake of the wondrous bass notes. And finally the last movement was pure play: one rondo theme with figurations, like mischievous elves, jumping around the movement.

The contrast was of course Beethoven’s “Appasionata”. We expected Mr. Kissin to take those unearthly fast demisemiquavers at hemidemisemiquaver velocity–which he did. But the opening, which gave the name to the work was even more daring. The opening triad didn’t flow down. Mr. Kissin paused with each note, as if wondering what unexpected event might come next. When the sturm und drang finally erupted, he went at it with all the storm necessary. And when he returned to the opening three notes, the music was more confident, ready for the violence to come.

The second half began strangely, idiosyncratically. The first two of the three Brahms Intermezzi are elegiac, thoughtful. Mr. Kissin slowed down the tempo for both, he played them as dark mysteries. I was initially disturbed–not in a good way–for the pacing. Only later, with the equal moodiness of the second and third (all listed Andante, the first two played with a near-adagio tempo) did I realized that he was tying them together, giving a greater emotion to work for which Brahms had given the most mundane of titles.

Finally, the works of Spain. Russia has always had a musical love affair with Spain (note Rimsky-Korsakov and Glinka), but Kissin eschewed the usual dances for four moody pieces by Isaac Albéniz. It is doubtful that Russian composers knew of the Spaniard, but Albéniz was the ornate doorway for de Falla and Granados and Turina. Mr. Kissin played the first three dances with near solemnity. Just as Debussy whispered the Spanish rhythms in his Preludes, Mr. Kissin allowed the atmosphere, the hints of castanets and Iberian rhythms to underlie his most soulful playing.

For the final Asturias, he had no choice but to play it straight, since this has been transcribed so often for solo guitar. With hardly a pause, he played another familiar piece, from an unfamiliar composer, Joaquín Larregla. It was a pastiche, encompassing a variety of popular Spanish melodies, wrapped up in a sparkly mantilla of pianistic hijinks.

Those in the audience screaming for five or six encores might not have realized that Mr. Kissin is a more judicious less showy player than previously. He gave “only” three. Two from Granados (The Maiden and the Nightingale and the Fifth Spanish Dance) and one Brahms (the First Hungarian Dance). The latter was for four hands, but Mr. Kissin never allowed that to get in the way of a rip-roaring finish.

CODA: Mr. Kissin will repeat this program on November 6 in Carnegie Hall. On December 6, he will play chamber music with violinist Mischa Maisky. On December 16, Mr. Kissin will present a “Jewish Music And Poetry” event as both pianist and speaker. And finally (or hopefully not finally) he will perform the Rachmaninoff Second Piano Concerto with the MET Orchestra under James Levine on May 19, 2016.

Harry Rolnick



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