- Last Updated on Tuesday, 24 April 2012 14:52
- Written by Phyllis Dreazen
- Category: Entertainment News
To me he’ll always be the otherworldly talented, young, skinny kid with big hair. To the rest of the world, Evegeny Kissin is one of the great piano virtuosos, among those very few whose name inspires awe and who fills every seat and stage seat in Orchestra Halls as he does in halls around the world. This year his program included works by Beethoven, Chopin and Samuel Barber.
Irving Berlin and Richard Rodgers commissioned Barber to write a piano sonata to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the League of Composers. Barber, who had just mustered out of the armed forces (1945), was one of this country’s most respected, mainstream composers. He crafted the sonata, op. 26, for Vladimir Horowitz; in our day, it belongs to Mr. Kissin. The sonata is a listener accessible, large scale, four-movement work coming out of the Brahms tradition; it is muscular and propulsive, technically formidable, sometimes serial, movingly lyrical in its slow movement, jazzy, romantic. The last movement is a Herculean Bach-type fugue that hardly ever lets up; it reminds me of the brilliant “peripatetico” toccata movement of Prokofiev’s 7th Sonata.
Though Mr. Kissin played faster and even more energetically than Horowitz (on his iconic recording), true virtuoso that he is, no matter how fast or loud, or fast and loud the playing, he never clouded the narrative: the listener’s ear could always clearly follow where the pianist was going. The audience responded to his playing of the rarely heard work–as it did to everything on the program–with an exuberant, prolonged ovation.
Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata opened the program; a Chopin group ended it (Horowitz might have given the same program adding only some Scarlatti or Clementi). The Beethoven didn’t work for me. Although the Adagio sostenuto’s triplets were a suitable soft background, the melody line sometimes sounded like unruly, jutting elbows. Curious agogics: en route to a tonal focus point, the line sometimes unexpectedly slowed down, interrupting the thought. The Allegretto had the requisite staccatos, but lacked grace. The Presto Agitato was both breathtakingly fast and furiously agitated, but occasionally it sounded muddy in the hall’s acoustics.
Chopin’s A-flat Nocturne (Op. 32, No.2) and the B Minor Sonata (No. 3, Op. 58) provided a tutorial in the Russian school of piano playing as compared with the Middle-European, in which pianistic style may trump musical substance but is always thrilling.
Encores included Chopin’s Mazurka in A Minor (Op. 17, No. 4), Beethoven’s Six Variations on an Original Theme in D Major (Op. 76) and Prokofiev’s March from Love for Three Oranges.