Evgeny Kissin at Barbican Hall – Schubert & Scriabin

Piano Sonata in D, D850
Piano Sonata No.2 in G sharp minor, Op.19 (Sonata-fantasy)
12 Etudes, Op.8 – No.2 in F sharp minor; No.4 in B; No.5 in E; No.8 in A flat; No.9 in G sharp minor; No.11 in B flat minor; No.12 in D sharp minor

Evgeny Kissin (piano)

Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 10 June, 2014
Venue: Barbican Hall, London

Evgeny Kissin. Photograph: Felix Broede / EMIEvgeny Kissin is something of a phenomenon, not in the demonstrative sense any longer – but now more considered, intimate, even insular. The music he played was not exaggerated for any special effect, but rather here was a pianist at its service, the audience intruding on what was private communion between musician and instrument. This recital was a copy of one given in Carnegie Hall exactly three months ago, even down to the three encores.

Schubert’s D major Piano Sonata was rendered by Kissin with a hint of insecurity: he harried the opening Allegro at the expense of clarity, with the odd exposed wrong note making unwelcome appearances. Sure, he made the case for plunging into the work – audience applause had barely subsided – but the relentlessness made distinctions tricky to fathom, such as with the second subject. Some differentiation came with the second movement, at once lyrical and gentle, and Kissin made it sing in a tender way. The scherzo was torn into, with some brilliance, but, again, the point was laboured. However, the finale was quite another matter: gentle and unforced, it was beautiful in a lullaby sense. What a great pity that a vandal in the audience had to cry “bravo!” before the final notes had died away.

The music of Alexander Scriabin found Kissin on much more secure ground. In the two-movement Sonata-Fantasy, wrong notes again permeated his playing, but mattered less such was the conviction and concentration that he brought to bear. In the opening Andante he found darkness in the notes, the music a cri de coeur and conjured a heady mix in the Presto. Something that other pianists would do well to emulate for the Etudes from the Opus 8 set of twelve is not to play them all! Kissin offered a contrasting selection. He was rather taut throughout, but found moments of quiet reflection and solitude for the first time in the evening. Number Five’s superficial triviality was brushed aside by his careful structuring, and in Number Eight the pianist’s considered use of rubato gave beauty to its fleeting stillness. He succeeded most dazzlingly with Number Nine’s bravura; similarly Number Twelve, which was tripping with ecstasy.

There were three encores: the J. S. Bach/Wilhelm Kempff ‘Siciliano’, the C sharp minor Etude from Scriabin’s Opus 42, and Chopin’s Polonaise in A flat (Opus 53), the later a thrilling end to the recital.

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