Piano Sonata in E flat, D568
32 Variations in C minor, WoO80
Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise, Op.22
Evgeny Kissin (piano)
Reviewed by: Ying Chang
Reviewed: 5 March, 2007
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
In music of the classical period, form conveys a good portion of the emotional content and small flaws are much more visible in the thinner textures; so Kissin’s detachment and accuracy were seen in their best light. The lapidary aloofness of his Schubert allowed us to admire this early work, not be irritated by the occasional creakiness of the composition. It was very reminiscent of Michelangeli’s approach to this work, a repudiation of sentiment in order to foreground structure. The Beethoven was stupendous in its precision; never can its many notes have been played with such evenness. The harshness in tone above mezzo-forte was curious, however, especially for an artist who has spoken with such admiration about the ‘golden sound’ of Emil Gilels.
But in the Romantic period, flow, texture and rubato are all much more explicitly giving the music its meaning. Even if Brahms is the most Classical of all Romantics, and late Brahms the most compressed and philosophical of the composer’s work, his music is indescribably strange when played without give or tenderness. This was not a consciously fragmented approach, such as I recently ascribed to Hamelin; this was Kissin’s remoteness from a spontaneous emotional involvement with the music. The Second Piece sounded contrived, the Ballade (No.3) perfunctory, the last Intermezzo simply incomprehensible.
The finale of the concert was ritualistic. A deliberately short second half concluded with some virtuoso Chopin, to whip up the audience’s applause and induce such familiar encores as Carmen Fantasy and Liszt’s Liebestraum, among which Mendelssohn’s Spinning Song was wonderfully fleet in its immaculate filigree.
Kissin’s detractors should bear in mind that neither they nor anyone else can emulate him, and that he can fill a concert hall, including the upper tier and chairs on stage, even on a Monday night. But he is a prodigy who has continued his career and continues to possess a prodigious technique, yet is otherwise curiously unchanged.