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NSO Opens Season with Kissin

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Chopin, Piano Concertos, E. Kissin, Moscow Philharmonic, D. Kitayenko
(recorded live in 1984, when Kissin was 12 years old)
Symphony orchestras like to open their seasons with a crowd-pleasing program, combining some flashy favorites and a soloist with enough star power to pack the house. Lang Lang did the job for the BSO earlier this month, and at Saturday's National Symphony Orchestra season opening ball concert it was Evgeny Kissin who provided the wattage. Some in the audience came mostly for the dinner gala, an evening with lots of recognizable Washingtonians -- David Gregory, Alan Greenspan and Andrea Mitchell, Nina Totenberg, Charles Krauthammer -- in a temporary pavilion outside the Kennedy Center providing shelter from the evening's storm: a worthwhile endeavor in that it raised $1.4 million for the NSO. Those whose primary interest was the music -- like pianist Cédric Tiberghien, who had played a lovely recital in the Terrace Theater earlier in the day and whom we spotted in the parterre boxes -- came to hear Kissin play Chopin's second piano concerto.

The Russian pianist, who has made a name performing the Chopin concertos since he was a child, did not disappoint. Kissin played with his accustomed technical mastery, with only one obtrusive note not struck precisely head-on out of a very long work. The phrasing was immaculate, and all the soft and delicate parts set off by carefully scaled dynamic contrasts, well supported by NSO principal conductor Iván Fischer, who helped contain the orchestral sound until the outbursts that were needed. The second movement was rhapsodic, with a gentle, tender opening that took the listener into another internal world (we saw Tiberghien, leaning his head on the box railing, lost in thought). The slow movement's gorgeous conclusion had barely dispersed when the subsequent Allegro vivace commenced, a dramatic finale capped by a fluid, flawless coda.

Other Reviews:

Anne Midgette, Start of NSO Season Is at Once Colorful and Lackluster (Washington Post, September 28)
The evening's other soloist, Hungarian violinist József Lendvay, Jr., does not require as many superlatives. He played Pablo de Sarasate's Zigeunerweisen, a work that he and Fischer have been performing with the Budapest Festival Orchestra. Lendvay, the son of a folk violinist, had an easy way with Sarasate's tribute to gypsy fiddlers and their folk tunes, a sort of mother tongue for the performer. Some technical bravura, a charming sense of humor, with a few sour notes along the way, but it was enough to please a gala crowd, who stood and cheered. To round out the Central European theme, Fischer chose Kodály's Dances of Galánta, a pleasing but over-long tribute to the composer's love of folk music from his own hometown of Galánta.

Glinka's overture to Russlan and Ludmilla and that omnipresent gala piece, the Blue Danube Waltz, sufficed for their purpose, although I, for one, would not have missed all those repeats observed in the Strauss. The one odd note was the choice of Richard Strauss's Salome's Dance, adapted from what is still one of the most shocking, even stomach-churning sequences of events in opera. Can this piece really ever be something one hears while sipping champagne and speculating about the economic recovery? As the "Er ist schrecklich" (he is hideous!) theme was floated on a big Romantic waltz, the grotesquerie of the programming choice was palpable.

Iván Fischer's next Hungarian-centered program will combine Bartók's complete score for the ballet The Wooden Prince and Beethoven's sixth symphony (October 1 to 3).

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