Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, BWV903
Piano Sonata in D, K311
Polonaise in F-sharp minor, Op.44
Preludes – in A-minor, Op.32/8 & in G-flat, Op.23/10
Étude-tableaux, Op.39 – I: in C-minor; II: in A-minor; V: in B-flat minor & IX: in D
Evgeny Kissin (piano)
Reviewed by: Susan Stempleski
Reviewed: 2 May, 2023
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City
This chronological program opened with a bravura account of Bach. Abounding in unanticipated twists and turns, tempo changes and modulations, it is one of the composer’s most virtuosic and dramatic keyboard pieces. Kissin’s masterly but agreeably natural performance was totally effortless and unforced. The Fantasia was dashing and brilliant, and the Fugue superbly vital and strikingly clean in articulation.
In the Mozart, opting for perfect tempos and touch, Kissin demonstrated grace and sensitivity throughout, endowing the lovely central Andante with color and lyricism and bringing luminous vibrancy to the sprightly Finale.
Things livened up considerably with Kissin’s resolute and hugely expressive rendition of the Chopin Polonaise, referred to as ‘tragic’ due to its predominantly somber mood. The piece is a hybrid, combining the clipped rhythmsof the polonaise with the lively gait of the mazurka. Kissin’s virtuosity and brilliance were on full display. His wide dynamic range was electrifying, and his light and supple touch, already apparent in Mozart, became even more fluid.
The second half was devoted to Rachmaninoff, all eminently listenable, some fiendishly difficult. A translucent treatment of the composer’s transcription of his song ‘Lilacs’ was followed by a sparkling A-minor Prelude, taken at a lightning-fast clip, then a beguiling rendering of the more-lyrical G-flat. The formal program concluded with five contrasting selections from the Opus 39 Études-tableaux, with only a brief pause between each. Many were forcefully delivered, but especially the first, the chromatically turbulent C-minor, boldly dispatched. An atmospheric A-minor (which Rachmaninoff said depicted the sea and seagulls) vividly evoked a scene of gentle waves being temporarily agitated by a passing storm. It gave way to an impressively agile B-minor, and then the E-flat minor, marked appassionato, feverishly intense music that alternates with lighter, more impishly inflected passages. Throughout, Kissin allowed Rachmaninoff’s refined harmonic links to unfold without the slightest hint of excess.
Kissin offered three encores, all from Rachmaninoff’s Morceaux de fantaisie, Opus 3: ‘Mélodie’, ‘Serenade’, and a resolute and captivating readingof the instantly recognizable C-sharp minor Prelude.