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Kissin's New Prokofiev Concertos

available at Amazon
Prokofiev, Piano Concertos 2/3, E. Kissin, Philharmonia Orchestra, V. Ashkenazy

(released on January 1, 2009)
EMI 50999 2 64536 2 0

available at Amazon
Concertos 1/3

available at Amazon
Concerto 2

Online scores:
Prokofiev, Piano Concertos
No. 1 (op. 10) | No. 2 (op. 16)
No. 3 (op. 26) | No. 5 (op. 55)

Even after admiring Evgeny Kissin's playing for many years, it was still a jolt to realize again how well he played Prokofiev at his last Kennedy Center recital this spring. Of course, Kissin has been playing the Prokofiev concertos for most of his career, even making a couple recordings in the 1980s and 90s. In this recent release from EMI, he offers his latest interpretation of the second and third concertos, both live from concert performances, one week apart, with the Philharmonia Orchestra at London's Royal Festival Hall last year. As noted of his Prokofiev in recital, Kissin's ferocious technique has the necessary force and savagery for the barbaro passages so important in Prokofiev's work. The sound is quite excellent for a live recording, with a minimum of extraneous noise and a close rendering of the piano that reveals the adamantine strength of Kissin's attack. It is the closest one is likely to get to the experience of standing next to the piano while Kissin plays these concertos.

The most striking examples of this come in the second concerto, especially in the cadenza of the first movement, whose brutal challenges Kissin tames with his accustomed technical assurance (more deliberately powerful than impetuously so, as in Yuja Wang's recent reading). The cadenza grows and grows in volume until the orchestra roars back into the movement, one of the most exciting cadenza conclusions in the piano concerto literature. The microphone placement also captures the suave side of Kissin's technique, too, as in the glissandi that swoop downward and upward in the third movement (more refined in quality than, for example, Yefim Bronfman's recording). The sound engineering puts the Philharmonia Orchestra, playing quite well, slightly into the background, but the greater dynamic contrasts of the third concerto require the orchestra to come more to the foreground. Vladimir Ashkenazy, familiar with both sides of the equation in the Prokofiev concertos, keeps things admirably together and helps the orchestra follow Kissin's lead. There are a few moments of misalignment, quickly righted by Ashkenazy, that would be edited in a studio recording but that capture some of the excitement of hearing a work like this performed so well live.


Although he will not be playing one of the Prokofiev concertos, one would hate to miss the next opportunity to hear Evgeny Kissin in Washington, at next weekend's season opening concert with the National Symphony Orchestra (September 26, 7 pm), playing the second piano concerto by Chopin. Just a few seats remain at the time of this writing.

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