MUSIC / Dazzled and dizzy: Adrian Jack on Evgeny Kissin in recital

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The Independent Culture
INTERVIEWING Evgeny Kissin on Radio 3 last Friday, Richard Baker told us that he is now based in New York, where he lives for most of the year with his family, though they still keep a flat in Moscow. Those of us who had the sense, foreknowledge or plain good luck to be at Kissin's British recital debut on Sunday afternoon might otherwise have conjectured that this diminutive, and rather awkward-looking 21-year- old owed his origins to some altogether more miraculous source. His recordings, including his Carnegie Hall debut at the age of 19 and another live recital in Tokyo, already testified to a kind of musical meteor, though as he started playing at the age of two, his rise cannot strictly be called meteoric.

Kissin gave his first public solo recital at the age of 11 and played both Chopin concertos with the Moscow Philharmonic the following year; he is now, in every sense, a mature artist, not just a keyboard wizard. His programme on Sunday was beautifully planned, down to the three encores. In the first half four Liszt song transcriptions of Schubert were followed by Schubert's Wanderer Fantasy, and after the interval we had Brahms's six Fantasies, Op 116, then Liszt's third and best-known Liebestraum and Spanish Rhapsody.

No pianist I have heard has so convincingly justified what Liszt did with Schubert's songs, re-interpreting and amplifying their expressive content in terms of everything the modern piano can offer to compensate for the loss of the naked human voice. Kissin gave simple melody notes an eloquence to compete more than adequately with any voice. But then he also shaped each song like the drama it is, and the climax of Gretchen am Spinnrade seemed to exclaim 'Sein Kuss]' as intensely as Schwarzkopf.

Kissin's fingers prance like a horse's legs, while his trunk moves forwards and backwards in a natural rhythm with his phrasing. He is otherwise a still player, without any sense of strain or mannerism. The impossible octaves at the end of the first movement of the Wanderer seemed to be shaken from his sleeves, and even at the most forceful moments his tone was rich and radiant. The slow movement, where at times the outline of the basic theme becomes almost a shadow behind the accumulated filigree, was full of astonishing subtleties of colour and balance.

His ardour in the opening Capriccio of Brahms's Op 116 swept all before it, while the largesse of his expressive projection was especially potent in the fourth of the Brahms set, the Intermezzo in E major; it often seems like a rubber band stretched well beyond the point it has any resilience left, but with Kissin one hung on every delicious sound. At the beginning of the Spanish Rhapsody, the way in which he bent over and, arching his fingers, pointed up every facet of the first theme, suggested we were in for some wickedness. It was thrilling; so brilliant and at the same time so free it was almost too much to take in. By the end I was dizzy.

If only superlatives had been invented yesterday, one could begin to do justice to playing of such effulgence and authority. This time there were plenty of free seats upstairs; next time they should be queueing down the street.