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The Lady or the Tiger?

New York
Carnegie Hall
04/28/2003 -  
Franz Schubert: Sonata, D 960
Franz Liszt: Four Schubert Songs, Petrarch Sonnet # 104, Mephisto Waltz # 1

Evgeny Kissin (piano)

Evgeny Kissin is exactly the same age now as Franz Schubert was when he composed the Piano Sonata in B Flat, only Mr. Kissin, hopefully, at 31 is still in the early stages of a fine career, whereas Schubert would die just two months after the completion of this grandiloquent essay. Both Schubert and Kissin can be classified as old men musically at this juncture, the composer having already crafted over a thousand superb pieces, the pianist a rugged veteran of many years standing. Mr. K displayed an exceptional degree of maturity in his reading of this uncompromising work of tonal poetry, proving yet again his mastery of his art form and his supreme level of confidence as a performer.

Immediately apparent to the overly sold-out crowd, which included over a hundred sitting on the stage, was that Kissin was going to traverse these Schubertian depths in a remarkably unhurried manner. No warm-up pieces to decompress the audience into a serious mood, no curtain raisers to allow the latecomers to get situated, no entry into Carnegie Hall between movements: this was 45 minutes of intellectual lyricism, something new to say on a fabulous old subject. Not only did Mr. Kissin explore the disproportionately long first movement the way James Levine conducts Parsifal, but he shocked this awed listener by developing the following andante sostenuto at an even more deliberate pace when compared to other interpreters. Somewhere midway through this second section, I became aware that I was experiencing greatness. When the third movement was finally allowed to breathe free, it seemed exceptionally fast and flowing, although, in actuality, it was also taken at a relaxed tempo. The final allegro was indeed performed at a faster than normal clip, but this alacrity was almost immediately mitigated by generous doses of expressive rubato which kept the listener just slightly off balance. There was no opportunity for finger tapping in this version: Kissin understands intimately the annihilation of linear time which is at the heart of Schubert at his most profound. This performance was one that elicited from this reviewer an audible sigh of admiration at its conclusion.

Very carefully, an amazingly accurate pianist led us all through the transition phase of this recital, intoning four Schubert song arrangements by Franz Liszt, ordered so that we all experienced a community sea change of artistic attitude in measured steps. The first song was all Schubert, that signature type of falling melody unique in its poignancy to this particular composer, embellished only slightly by the arranger. The journey ended three songs later with a pyrotechnical display of Lisztian dexterity wherein the original Schubert tune was almost an afterthought: we had arrived in the realm of the showman. Under this tent, no one can rival Evgeny Kissin, a still youthful display of bravado and superhuman technique a fine way to recall those early piano recitals of the nineteenth century’s most charismatic pianist. Come to think of it, Kissin reminds a bit of Franz Liszt, the ladies’ swooning and throwing flowers, the hair a major part of the act. For sheer fun at the keyboard, I’ll take his version of the Mephisto Waltz any day.

A colleague whose critical view is especially sharp is fond of stating that “the golden age is now”. Pity he was not in attendance last evening; for at least in this one instance, I wholeheartedly agree. One would have thought that this beautiful program would have been enough, but Evgeny Kissin is a consummate crowd pleaser and so favored us all with four encores. The memory of Horowitz was so strong during this section, that I half expected the last offering to be The Stars and Stripes Forever.

This was a fabulous concert. It had to be. Mitsuko Uchida was playing just next door at Weill.

Frederick L. Kirshnit



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