Piano Concerto No.4 in G, Op.58
Piano Concerto No.5 in E flat, Op.73 (Emperor)
Evgeny Kissin (piano)
London Symphony Orchestra
Sir Colin Davis
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: 14 November, 2004
Venue: Barbican Hall, London
A week is a long time in politics. Time-scales are evidently even shorter in music. Only three days after the dispiriting first concert of the cycle, this remaining one was rather different. Although one might disagree with individual details, from first note to last there was the ring of total conviction from all concerned.
The combination of these two concertos worked remarkably well, the Fourth inward and deeply reflective, the Emperor grand and very public. You can tell a great deal about a performance of the Fourth from the way the pianist plays the gentle opening solo and how it then dovetails with the orchestra. With Evgeny Kissin the chords were perfectly weighted as the concerto was breathed into life and, with Colin Davis at the helm, the mood was seamlessly maintained at a relaxed tempo. Kissin has an advantage in this quicksilver music with his ability to play the actual notes; where others obfuscate, frequently over-pedalling, Kissin exults in his technical control and when, as on this occasion, this is allied to sensitivity over dynamics and a superb orchestral accompaniment the results are something to behold. Especially riveting was the ‘Orpheus taming the wild beasts’ (as Liszt termed it) slow movement, depth of string-sound offset by Kissin’s precisely balanced chords (not even the ringing of a mobile phone at the most critical moment could destroy the sense of something special).
The ‘Emperor’ was, if anything, even more remarkable. The sheer weight of sound Kissin commands in those opening flourishes is daunting. Davis does heroic Beethoven particularly well and the orchestral exposition fizzed with power and commitment. Kissin’s playing contained some real surprises. Despite the gigantic force of his playing, never, for example, have I heard the octave passage done with greater sensitivity and restraint. The slow movement was rapt without sentimentality, the link into the finale adroitly handled; occasionally Kissin lapsed into over-forcefulness but there was real compensation in the finesse characterising the finale’s main theme on each of its appearances and in the evident pleasure with which he interacted with the woodwind players. A memorable evening was rounded off with Beethoven’s ‘Rage Over a Lost Penny’.