Evgeny Kissin at Barbican Hall – Haydn, Beethoven, Schubert & Liszt

Sonata in E flat, Hob.XVI:49
Piano Sonata No.32 in C minor, Op.111
Impromptus, D935 – No.1 in F minor; No.3 in B flat
Impromptus, D899 – No.3 in G flat; No.4 in A flat
Hungarian Rhapsody No.12 in C sharp minor

Evgeny Kissin (piano)

Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 20 November, 2012
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Evgeny Kissin. ©Sasha Gusov licensed to EMI ClassicsA generous and ambitious programme from Evgeny Kissin. He dresses formally, is a little awkward walking on and off the platform, bows to his audience reverentially, and is at the service of the music. He may appear cold and detached, but once sat upon the stool, the music poured forth to the ears and transfixed. To mention just once that Kissin’s playing was matchless on a technical level, and was often breathtaking.

The Haydn was, though, too private. Kissin’s intense playing made the opening Allegro plodding, too black and white. However, the Adagio’s warmth benefited from his introspective reading, momentum maintained by a slight harrying of the notes, but the finale was too weighty, lacking light and shade .

However, the Beethoven was quite another matter. This was a performance to die for. Bold, unsettling, commanding, Kissin was more at-home with the grand gestures of the opening movement, with no need to be extravagant or punchy, and the subtle moments compelled equally as much. The second-movement Arietta (a set of variations) began with transcendent beauty, and much was captivating. Kissin’s ease with the music made it sing, and the sparseness and mercurial soundscape towards the close was touching and enthralling.

Schubert’s two sets of four Impromptus are anything but what the title suggests, and four was too much. However, Kissin had the measure of their emotions. The F minor glittered, its gentle ideas caressed. The B flat minor’s balletic character charmed. The G flat minor Impromptu was organic, and the A flat was given room to express itself.

To close, Liszt’s Twelfth Hungarian Rhapsody, a work of dazzling virtuosity, which Kissin played with jaw-dropping exactitude. The grandiose nature of the piece never carried him away, and the freedom of the music allowed him to manœuvre. This was a blistering account. Encores were inevitable. After a few wry smiles (there’s a human being beneath the solemn façade), Kissin offered the Gluck/Sgambati Melody (from Orfeo ed Euridice), Liszt’s F minor Transcendental Study (No.10), and Liszt’s arrangement of Schubert’s Die Forelle (The Trout).

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