Evgeny Kissin returned triumphantly to Washington for his biennial Washington Performing Arts Society-sponsored recital, on Sunday afternoon in the Kennedy Center Concert Hall. Both his recitals and his recordings have come in for some high praise here at Ionarts, and this performance was no less laudable. Kissin's best playing, as shown in the live recording made at the 2006 Verbier Festival, is in Chopin, providing just the right combination of loneliness and technical furor. Even better balance can be provided by Kissin's other specialty, demanding Russian repertoire, as found in his 2005 Strathmore recital (Medtner, Stravinsky's Pétroushka Suite) but not his 2007 recital (restrained Schubert, excellent Brahms and Beethoven). The music of only two composers passed through Kissin's hands this time, in a beautifully unified program of Prokofiev and Chopin.
Opening with Prokofiev's Three Pieces from Romeo and Juliet, op. 75, Kissin captured Juliet's flightiness in restless runs, the wild romp of Mercutio's Queen Mab speech, and the heavy-footed dance of the Montagues and Capulets, orchestral in scope and marvelously differentiated in voicing. That was a pleasing overture to the meat of this recital, an unforgettable performance of Prokofiev's eighth sonata (B-flat major, op. 84). From the opening note of the first movement (Andante dolce), which Kissin set gently and sweetly in place with such deliberate care, this was a display of patient craftsmanship, alternately elegiac and then restive in the inquieto sections. The piece has never much appealed to me, by comparison to the flashier Prokofiev sonatas (no. 2, no. 7), but Kissin's case was persuasive, giving the second movement (Andante sognando) the feel of someone fallen asleep outside a dance hall, with chromatic chord alterations soft-pedaled and Kissin's velvety touch making time seem to stand still. Finally, the third movement (Vivace) was an outrageous toccata that rumbled with trumpet-like fanfares through to its booming conclusion.
Anne Midgette, Kissin Is Dexterous but Lacking in Emotion (Washington Post, March 3)
John von Rhein, Evgeny Kissin, wunderkind no longer, brings mature insights to Chopin and Prokofiev (Chicago Tribune, February 24)
As if the first half were not enough of an indication that Kissin should record more of the Prokofiev solo literature, he focused on Prokofiev in his three encores. (After hearing eight encores in 2007, one could not help feeling a little disappointed.) After a fluid, expansive Chopin nocturne (op. 27, no. 2) Kissin brought down the house with two Prokofiev selections, Devilish Inspiration, Op. 4, No. 4 and the March from Love for Three Oranges. Both were hard-fingered heart-stoppers, just the way this kind of Prokofiev works best.
Compare Russian pianists with the next concert from WPAS, a recital by Olga Kern at Strathmore (March 22, 4 pm).