Thursday, January 13, 2022

L’Auditori Hall, Barcelona

Guest Reviewer, Guy Holloway

There’s something cold and functional about the 2,200-seat L’Auditori Hall. And for an artist of this magnitude, the audience was surprisingly thin.

The opening notes of Carl Tausig’s reworking of Bach’s celebrated organ work (if he wrote it) were marred by a member of the audience holding her phone up to film. Kissin turned and glared imperiously at her. What followed was a crashing cascade of sound. Kissin-the-composer had further embellished the writing, thickening the chords, for the sound emanating from the Steinway was huge. In both the Toccata and the Fugue, clarity was sacrificed in favour of organ-like reverberation, if a marvel of majesty and sonority.

The ‘simplicity’ of the Mozart could not have made for greater contrast. Where others have pulled this piece about for fey effect, Kissin’s approach was to adhere with unerring precision to the notes as written, allowing the music to speak for itself. The left-hand legato passages glistened, and the perfect evenness and weight of the right-hand were a pinnacle of Mozartean grace and good taste.

Kissin’s view of the late A-flat Beethoven Sonata was expansive, allowing plenty of space, and silence, whilst not losing sight of the overall structure. The Scherzo was more controlled than overtly playful, in line with Kissin’s keen sense of serious purpose. The single notes in the ‘Recitativo’ were beautifully formed, yet full of rawness and substance. In the ‘Arioso dolente’, one put mental note-taking aside in order to contemplate existence: confessional Beethoven pared to the bone. The fugal writing that followed was grand and led to a triumphant-in-life conclusion.

The Chopin second half was less satisfying. In the Mazurkas, an element of routine cropped in. Kissin may have picked up a certain restlessness in the audience, with, again, some blithely holding up phones to film. Only in the final Mazurka (Opus 33/4), played languidly and individually, did Kissin find some quasi-improvisatory magic. (Memories of Babayan not erased.) The Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise was given the full virtuosic treatment, but again Kissin seemed somewhat detached.

His first encore was a tender yet weighted, celestial rendition of Bach-Busoni’s Nun komm, der Heiden Heiland (BWV659). The audience wanted more, and Kissin gave us Mozart’s Rondo in D (K485), quite lengthy for an encore with both repeats played (as in the Adagio), and two more Chopin pieces – the ‘Octave’ Study from Opus 25 and the F-minor Waltz (Opus 70/2).

A note informed that Kissin’s (only) teacher Anna Pavlovna Kantor died last year at the age of ninety-eight. This recital was dedicated to her memory, which Kissin is playing this year across Europe and in the States.

Bach, arr. Carl Tausig

Toccata & Fugue in D-minor, BWV565‎


Adagio in B-minor, K540 


Sonata in A-flat, Op.110


A selection of Mazurkas
‎Andante spianato & Grande Polonaise brillante, Op.22