Evgeny Kissin is now in his forties, and something has happened to his playing: the over-worked ego which sometimes marred it during his thirties has been replaced by the serene wisdom of maturity.
When asked how he chooses his repertoire, he replies that he only plays music he loves, which is why his Liszt is so overwhelming, and why his Beethoven is so oracular.
His approach at the Barbican to that most hackneyed of piano concertos, Tchaikovsky’s first, was typical, avoiding the usual schmaltz of the opening through the sheer perfection of his sound, delivering the virtuoso passage-work with lightness and precision, investing the start of the cadenza with Chopinesque delicacy, and answering the orchestra’s staccato entry in the slow movement with a pearlised staccato of his own.
In short, he brought a Classical restraint to this most Romantic of works, and if this was not echoed in Michael Tilson Thomas’s brash conducting of the London Symphony Orchestra, Kissin still triumphed as the work’s chaste heart.
The rest of this concert was on a less exalted level. Rimsky-Korsakov’s Dubinushka may have a romantic history, but it’s a negligible piece; Prokofiev’s largely bombastic Fifth Symphony was redeemed by an eloquent Adagio and a finale with charm.
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