Friday, May 20, 2022

Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York City

Guest Reviewer, Susan Stempleski

For the first half of this Carnegie Hall recital Evgeny Kissin offered three works from a trio of the masters – Bach, Mozart, and Beethoven – but it was the second half, consisting of Chopin, that really captured the attention.

Kissin opened with a forceful rendition of Carl Tausig’s virtuosic adaptation of (probably not by) J. S. Bach’s revered organ work, the D-minor Toccata and Fugue (BWV565), a model of sonority and grandeur with unusually thick, organ-like sounds reverberating from the Steinway as Kissin’s prudent pedaling added abundant weight and color without sacrificing clarity.

The soft and somber opening of Mozart’s B-minor Adagio (K540) made for a mighty difference in an intensely serious and dedicated reading. Kissin emphasized the reflective qualities of the music without striving for effect. Played at a measured tempo, with both repeats observed, and the final change from minor to major splendidly done, it emerged as a significant work.

Next came an eloquent and expansive reading of another piece marked by melancholy and conflict, Beethoven’s A-flat Sonata, Opus 110. Kissin conveyed the elegiac and warmly lyrical mood of the opening Moderato cantabile, and perfectly captured the drama of the mood-shifts in the brief, unpredictable Allegro molto. The plaintive Arioso of the Finale unfolded with graceful dignity, the ensuing fugue emerging with grandeur and leading to a gloriously jubilant conclusion.

With Chopin, the composer Kissin has been most closely identified with since 1984 when, at the age of twelve, he played both Piano Concertos in the Great Hall of the Moscow Conservatory, and his extraordinary virtuosity continues to shine its brightest in the Pole’s music. In a carefully curated selection of seven Mazurkas paired with the Andante spianato and Grande polonaise brillante he made a singularly satisfying musical statement. His playing was particularly seductive in the more wistful minor-key Mazurka selections. But in all of them his superb articulation was allied to lilting elegance and lustrous legato. The remaining piece brought the program to a dazzling close.

Kissin offered four encores: a tenderly pensive Bach-Busoni Chorale Prelude ‘Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland’ (BWV659); then Mozart’s sparkling D-major Rondo (K485); and two further pieces by Chopin – a robust ‘Heroic’ A-flat Polonaise and a radiant and touching F-minor Waltz, Opus 70/2.