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Kissin at Verbier

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Evgeny Kissin, Verbier Festival Recital (Chopin)
(released January 9, 2007)
Earlier this spring, I revisited the legend of Evgeny Kissin, as represented by the re-release compilation of some of his early recordings, called Fantasy. His recitals in Washington have won consistent praise around here, from Jens in 2005 and me in 2007 (for DCist). We have enjoyed Kissin's performances of the music of many composers, including the disc of Schubert for four hands with James Levine, but invariably it is Kissin's way with Chopin that knocks us flat. This live recording of Kissin's recital at the Verbier Festival in July 2006 is a nice testament to the mature Kissin's handling of a challenging all-Chopin program (much of it included in Kissin's 2005 recital at Strathmore).

Kissin tackled four polonaises, some of the most personal pieces Chopin composed. They are difficult to play not only for their technical demands but their emotional character, bound up intimately with Chopin's identity as a Pole in exile (if we can call Romantic Paris exile). The two early polonaises (op. 26), especially the second one, are masterful readings of less familiar works of considerable charm. Kissin strikes the right balance of blustery Polish nationalism and the forlorn mal de pays -- the Chopin who recited the poetry of Adam Mickiewicz to himself. A few minor cracks even appear in the perfect Kissin veneer, noticeable only in the "Heroic" polonaise (A-flat major, op. 53) that concludes the recital (for example, at about 1:34 in Track 8). That does nothing to diminish Kissin's accomplishment, which is technically staggering (like the rolling thunder of the bass in the B section), and in fact adds a level of sympathetic complexity.

Evgeny Kissin and Martha Argerich, Mozart's Sonata in C for 2 Pianos,
K. 521 (second movement), Verbier Festival, July 22, 2003
(see also first movement and third movement)

The other four pieces on the program are impromptus, a genre rightly identified by Stephen Wigler (who has made a sort of mini-career out of writing about and for Kissin) in the liner notes as more or less Chopin's exclusive territory. Rarely of the same substance as the polonaises (by length if by no other criterion), the impromptus in Kissin's hands are appropriately mercurial, prone to sudden flashes of dreamy reverie or volatility (like the butterfly flutters starting at around 3:55 in the op. 36). Kissin has played the infamous Fantaisie-Impromptu (C-sharp minor, op. 66), because of which every pianist (myself included) eventually has to learn to play sixteenth notes against triplets, at both of his recent Washington recitals (on the program in 2005 and as one of his eight encores this spring). It's a signature piece that Kissin could probably play in his sleep, and he can even make me forget the rainbow-chasing travesty perpetrated on this piece by Harry Carroll (even when sung as memorably as Al Jolson did).

At this year's Verbier Festival, Kissin appeared with the festival orchestra and conductor Esa-Pekka Salonen (July 26) and gave a solo recital (July 30). These concerts can be seen in streaming video, of very high quality (although experiencing a few glitches at the time of this writing), online only through August 31.

RCA Red Seal (Sony BMG) 82876 68668 2

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Dear Charles:

Thanks for the reference (and the link) to some of my work. But while it may seem to you that I have made a sort of mini-career of writing about and for Evgeny Kissin, the truth is that I've never written for him. I have written liner notes for four of his BMG albums -- but I was writing as a free lance for, and was being paid by, BMG. My enthusiasm for Kissin's playing in my reviews -- I don't believe I mention him in my BMG liner notes -- is genuine and heartfelt.

Yours sincerely,

Steve Wigler