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Briefly Noted: Kissin plays Salzburg

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Evgeny Kissin, Salzburg Recital (Berg, Chopin, Gershwin, Khrennikov)

(released on September 2, 2022)
DG 00028948629947 | 97'32"
Evgeny Kissin's most recent recital in Washington was scheduled for May of 2020. Because that was obviously canceled, it has been a long drought since the celebrated Russian pianist last appeared here. To fight the withdrawal symptoms, your critic has turned to Kissin's newest recording, captured live at the Großes Festspielhaus in Salzburg in August of 2021.

The last several years have brought significant changes to Kissin's life. In 2017, during a break from performing, he married a childhood friend and wrote a memoir. In July of 2021, just before Kissin played this recital, his piano teacher, Anna Pavlovna Kantor, died at the age of 98. She was much more than a teacher to Kissin, becoming a member of his family and living with them for the last thirty years. "She was my only piano teacher, and everything I am able to do on the piano I owe to her," Kissin has written, dedicating this recital to her memory.

One imagines that the pandemic shutdowns were difficult for Kissin, who has always seemed to be most at ease while playing on stage, as if music were in a way his first language. "I’m simply more inspired in front of an audience," he is quoted saying in the liner notes of this two-disc set. He played this recital to a full house, something he said was very important to him, even in the face of coronavirus restrictions. Although he once told me backstage at the Kennedy Center that he had no interest in composing his own music, one of the Salzburg encores is his own Dodecaphonic Tango. Composition is now an interest of his: Kissin, who has been vocally critical of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, is also composing a piano trio in response to this unprovoked war.

Among other curiosities, the program opens with a prickly performance of Berg's Piano Sonata, op. 1. A decidedly idiosyncratic rendition of Gershwin's Preludes follows a set of short pieces by Tikhon Khrennikov (1913-2007), a Russian composer and Soviet functionary. The choice is definitely odd for political reasons, given Khrennikov's consistent holding of the party line during the darkest years of the USSR and even after its dissolution. Listeners are then treated to the palate cleansing of Kissin's inimitable Chopin. Unable to let go of the audience, Kissin offered four encores, as usual some of the most exhilirating moments.

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