The tightly-knit program for this jam-packed Carnegie Hall recital – with several added rows of stage seating – opened with three Chopin Nocturnes, perfectly suited to Evgeny Kissin’s aristocratic and appealingly introverted style, displaying his poetry, impeccable taste and masterful technique. With the opening of the F-minor he created a feeling of intimacy and sustained it in a mesmerizing account of the G-major, and finally a glittering display of virtuosity in the impassioned climax of Opus 62/2.
Robert Schumann’s sprawling F-minor Sonata came next. It has a complicated evolution. The first (1836) version, entitled ‘Concerto without Orchestra’ and based on a theme by his then-fiancée Clara Wieck, went through several major changes before the composer settled on the 1853 single-Scherzo (one dropped) score performed here. Kissin traversed the mercurial and technically demanding writing with ease, heavily accenting the crashing octaves in the opening Allegro, gaily dispatching the Scherzo, luxuriating in the rhapsodic Variations on Clara’s Andantino, and culminating in cascades of athleticism in the blistering Finale.
Following intermission the music reverted to a calmer, more graceful mood, opening with a splendidly imaginative rendering of ‘Danseuses de Delphes’. ‘Les collines d’Anacapri’ was vividly depicted with its rippling evocations of Italian folksong, and ‘Ce qu’a vu le vent d’ouest’ was replete with gusty arpeggios and tremolos. ‘La fille aux cheveux de lin’ sang with tenderness, and the strains of a Spanish guitar were equally affecting in ‘La sérénade interrompue’. The bells of ‘La cathédrale engloutie’ tolled slowly and grimly, ‘General Lavine – eccentric’ was aptly whimsical, and ‘Feux d’artifice’ a triumphant display of pyrotechnics.
Kissin’s closed with a perfectly stunning rendition of Scriabin’s Fourth Sonata. Commanding the music’s wide dynamic range and feverish intensity, he delivered a concentrated and brilliant reading. There were three encores: a delicately nuanced ‘Träumerei’ from Schumann’s Kinderszenen, a delightfully teasing ‘Golliwogg’s cake-walk’ out of Debussy’s Children’s Corner, and a sparkling Chopin A-flat Waltz, Opus 34/1.