JS Bach trans. Busoni
Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C, BWV 564
Glinka arr. Balakirev
Pictures at an Exhibition
Evgeny Kissin (piano)
Reviewed by: Mark E Croasdale
Reviewed: May 2002
CD No: RCA RED SEAL 09026 63884 2
Although still a relatively young pianist, Evgeny Kissin is an old hand when it comes to the recording studio. And with such high standards, it is disappointing when he falls short of expectations.
The Bach is Kissin’s most engaging and consistent performance. He balances the work’s large-scale structure with energy, majesty and intimacy. The ’Fugue’ is the highlight of the interpretation with very good staccato phrases and balanced interplay between the hands. The ’Adagio’ is sincere without being reverential. Throughout he employs a very full dynamic range and although there are some initially disconcertingly loud chords at the end of the ’Adagio’, track 2 from 5’ 14”, they are entirely convincing.
Balakirev’s florid transcription conspires to turn Glinka’s simple little tune into a piece of kitsch and Kissin magnifies the effect by mistaking the arpeggio and scalar ornamentation for content. And just for good measure, he irritatingly splits the bass notes from the melody when they ought to sound together.
Overall, Kissin’s performance of Pictures at an Exhibition is very good but ultimately it promises more than it delivers. ’The Old Castle’ is atmospheric and elusively quiet, and the linking ’Promenades’ fulfil their dual purpose with many subtle contrasts both summarising what has been viewed and providing a foretaste of what is to come. The rhythmic drive of the ’The Hut on Fowl’s Legs’ is dynamically unforced; however, when we arrive at ’The Great Gate of Kiev’ there is no sense of omnipotent heroism or superstructure. In particular, the chordal arpeggios are played grimly and they descend into a slapping sound in the high register. Moreover, the extended pause before the fortissimo chords, although textually correct, is too long and dissipates tension.
There are some eccentric moments too: in some of the ’Promenades’, and most noticeably in the second one, track 7, Kissin unaccountably accents the weak second quarter-note of the melody. And in ’The Old Castle’ he separates the bass notes from the melody as he did in the Glinka. Nevertheless, what drives the performance on is the exuberant abundance of virtuosic technique – the repeated octaves of ’Samuel Goldenberg and Schmuÿle’, and the superb finger articulation in the frenetic ’The Market’ standing out. This rendition never falters but it does suffer from an erratic musical conception and indifferent recording.