Athletic Kissin delivers in time hgyh

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The Independent Online
KISSIN FEVER hit town last night, though a few are immune. "He can't last another year," they say (and have been saying for some time), or "He's losing touch with his audience." Well, he certainly packs them in, and a few mumblings are always heard in response to a phenomenon.

Still, it's a pity that because of his appeal, Kissin had to play at the Royal Festival Hall rather than the Queen Elizabeth, which is much better for piano sound. Some say Kissin is a basher but last night he was battling against a dry acoustic,and possibly against the brittleness of this particular piano.

I'd say Kissin won. This was a Russian programme, beginning with the complete second set of Rachmaninov's tudes tableaux, Op 38. Compared with Rachmaninov's earlier Preludes, they're somewhat chilly pieces, very much about glittering piano figuration rather than deep or distinctive poetic content. Kissin emphasised their brilliance with stabbing percussive attacks in the first piece and an element of hysteria in the second, evoking memories of Horowitz. Yet he differentiated the closing chords with the subtlest variations of colour.

In the fifth piece we got some typically stylish desynchronisation of the two hands, if not the most alluring tone quality possible, and after the gruff opening of the seventh, there was lovely liquid quiet playing. The ninth was a model of controlled pianissimo staccato.

Scriabin was not only a more visionary composer than Rachmaninov, but also warmer in feeling. In his Third Sonata, Kissin underplayed the warmth, and gave the dramatic first movement a biting edge, with clipped rhythms and angry attack.

Finally, a display of athleticism the very thought of which makes one sweat. Apparently, Balakirev's title Islamey was too hard even for its pianistically brilliant composer to manage himself. Most pianists pull its whirling rhythms about a good deal, letting out the seams of the composition, very often to the extent of pulling it apart. None of that here. Rarely can it have been delivered so strictly in time as well as with such sharply accurate address. The audience fairly roared, and stooping to take a modest bunch of flowers, our pale-faced prodigy smiled for the first time.

Adrian Jack

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