Liszt, Études d'exécution transcendante (inter alia), E. Kissin
Schubert / Brahms / Bach / Liszt / Gluck, E. Kissin
2011 | NSO, 2009 | 2009
2007 | 2005
Before the sublime, however, was the mundane as Kissin chose to pair op. 111 -- the farewell to the sonata, as Thomas Mann's Dr. Kretzschmar once put it -- with a sonata that sounded like the genre's elementary beginning. Haydn wrote the sonata in E-flat major (Hob. XVI:49) in the summer of 1790 for his friend Maria Anna von Genzinger, the wife of his employer's physician, who lived in Vienna. It is more difficult to play than the sonatas Haydn wrote for amateurs, but for Kissin it was child's play, a trifle that he dispatched dutifully. He gave it many nuances of phrases and a generally crisp articulation (almost no sustaining pedal), playful in the outer movements without ever becoming broadly comic and with immaculate Rococo twists and cascades toward the end of the first movement. The second movement, the heart of the piece, Kissin made wholly unaffected, earnest, cantabile, tender but with no need for distortion, even in the left-hand crossings. It was capped off by a gentle menuetto, not too fast but with a sense of propulsion, like the rest marvelously polished and contained. One could justifiably have been bored to tears, but I was not, largely because the way the piece purled by, as if streaming forth from a very elegant music box, was so charming. Kissin's capacity for understatement was evident with sections like the closing theme of the first movement (measure 52), a brief moment where he composer seems to lose his train of thought, snared by a momentary step into the harmonic thicket of the subdominant when he is trying to get to the dominant (a gesture Haydn returns to in the development and recapitulation).
If Kissin's goal was to make as stark a contrast as possible with what he was going to do with op. 111, he succeeded. The Beethoven opened with a fierceness in the first movement's menacing fugue subject, at times lost in a wild rumpus of notes. Kissin took the tempos as fast and wild and literal as he could, the bass booming and swirls of notes in the center section. The Arietta was simple, soft, almost but not quite unbearably slow -- as András Schiff pointed out in his lecture on this sonata, is this movement marked "Molto Adagio" or "Adagio, molto semplice"? -- with diverting little wisps of countermelody in the minor phrase of the first variation. Neither the second nor third variation crossed the line from jaunty into "boogie-woogie" -- again, I am with Schiff on this point, that hearing such jazzy overtones in these variations is a "banality." Schiff sees the last movement as being a "Gratias" moment, all about gratitude and thanksgiving, and that seemed to be where Kissin was aiming, at a brush with the divine, in the formless exclamations and wandering triplets drunk with starlight in the fourth variation. The trill section, where a trill has to be maintained as constantly as possible while all sorts of other things happen at the same time, was absolutely magical and serene. Recent performances of the piece immediately sank in my estimation -- Till Fellner in 2010 less so than Simone Dinnerstein in 2009.
Anne Midgette, Pianist Evgeny Kissin offers Viennese classicism at Kennedy Center recital (Washington Post, April 26) [3 encores]
Michael Guerrieri, Personality, proficiency from pianist Kissin (Boston Globe, April 23) [5 encores]
Lawrence Budmen, Kissin closes Kravis classical season in supreme artistic style (South Florida Classical Review, April 17) [no encores]
WPAS's extraordinary April continues with a recital by pianist Rafał Blechacz tomorrow (April 27, 7:30 pm), in the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater.