Evgeny Kissin at Carnegie Hall – Liszt

Etude d’exécution transcendante – No.9: Ricordanza
Piano Sonata in B minor
Harmonies poétiques et religieuses – Funérailles
Années de pèlerinage: Première annèe (Suisse) – Vallée d’Obermann
Venezia e Napoli

Evgeny Kissin (piano)

Reviewed by: Elizabeth Barnette

Reviewed: 9 March, 2011
Venue: Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Evgeny Kissin. ©Sasha Gusov licensed to EMI ClassicsAt a time when many young musicians appear in a variety of informal attire, it was surprising to see the 39-year-old Evgeny Kissin arrive in white tie for his Carnegie Hall Liszt recital. And even beyond appearances, his whole manner was reminiscent of an earlier, more formal era. Bowing separately to the audience in the sold-out hall and in the stage seats with very deliberate and studied deportment at each entry and exit, he struck a dignified, if slightly remote figure.

Starting to play almost as soon as he sat down, Kissin was thoroughly absorbed in his own, exalted world. His technical command of the instrument is astounding; he applied it in an Apollonian, rather than Dionysian manner, starting with a poetic, but restrained Transcendental Etude. The Piano Sonata in B minor emerged as much more than a mere display of virtuosity. There was plenty of it, though – blazing octave runs, gossamer figuration, a perfectly balanced and transparent fugal section, all integrated into an organic whole.

In ‘Vallée d’Obermann’ Kissin traversed the range of expression from lyrical reflection to emotional outburst. It takes a pianist of Kissin’s prodigious talents, for whom technical problems do not exist, to be able to focus on the bigger picture as well as the details, and give coherent readings of these sprawling works. For a program of Liszt, Kissin’s choice of a rather bright Hamburg Steinway seemed somewhat miscalculated. It delivered great clarity and a healthy amount of volume, but without the depth of sound one wished for. Keeping the pedal down, as Liszt marks, in the bass octave triplets of ‘Funérailles’, Kissin produced a big blur, but it fell short of the thunder another instrument might have provided. The lighter portion, Venezia e Napoli, was better suited to this instrument. After much doom and gloom, here was the Italian sun at last. ‘Gondoliera’ was touching in its simplicity, ‘Canzone’ sung in long lines, and ‘Tarantella’ sparkled with a brilliant touch.

A thundering standing ovation at last brought a hint of a smile from the pianist. During the three encores he even allowed us a glimpse of the man inside the artist. In Schumann’s ‘Widmung’ (in Liszt’s arrangement), his tone acquired extra warmth, and one of the Soirées de Vienne (after Schubert) had a real air of gemütlichkeit to it. The highpoint of the evening was the Third Liebestraum. Here, for the first time, a hush descended over the hall as Kissin drew the audience into his intensely personal and delicate account of this piece. This intimate dimension lifted his playing to yet another, higher level.

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