Evgeny Kissin, Barbican, London
Tuesday 14 March 2006
Two Beethoven sonatas occupied the recital's first half, the showy one in C from his early career as a soloist and then the emotive "Les Adieux". Kissin took a hard, smooth and fast line in his opener with torrents of strongly articulated semiquavers, but missed its obsessive drive and surprise.
In "Les Adieux" the moods of subdued longing made their mark, but even in this sonata the ebb and flow of the quicker music sounded unspontaneous.
That Kissin's usual responses weren't fully alive became clear as soon as Chopin replaced Beethoven. Chopin's composing shows an uncanny anticipation of where fingers and arms need to move next. For a pianist of extreme technique, it opens up possibilities that other players can't dream of. Even its soulful, humourless qualities are right up Kissin's smouldering street. There were times when the piano's lid wobbled alarmingly, but a Steinway is made for this kind of treatment and Kissin extracted from it a combination of massive sonority and pace.
Playing the four Scherzos in order, Kissin chose to maximise contrast. An exhilarating ride through the first was interrupted by withdrawn tone: the moment where the two kinds of music overlapped was breathtaking. In No 2 the impression continued of old-fashioned keyboard wizardry taken to the edge and given a post-modern reassembly. Flat-out sprints and unearthly quiet alternated, or even fused in No 3's chorale, which despite Kissin's singalong treatment sounded quite bewitching.
Fantasy, in the laid-back No 4, predominated over serenity and tonal warmth in a constantly shifting pattern of light and shade that gave the piece an uncommon and convincing restlessness. If only Kissin had risked getting equally personal with Beethoven - idiomatic or not, flamboyance beats caution any day with this composer.
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