Evgeny Kissin The conqueror at the Barbican
Beethoven op 106 Hammerklavier… Rachmaninov Preludes op 23 1- 7 op 32 10-13
4 encores ..Scriabin Study in C sharp minor op 2n.1 Kissin Boogie Woogie Toccata Rachmaninov Prelude op 3 n.2 in C sharp minor Tchaikowsky Meditation
After this memorable concert I was thinking about which Hammerklavier performances I could remember.
They included above all Rudolf Serkin but also Richter,Brendel,Foldes,Pollini,Barenboim,Ashkenazy,Perahia and Sokolov.
We are talking about the pinnacle of the pianistic repertoire a mountain that every great pianist aspires to and not everyone succeeds in capturing.
I well remember my own experience in trying to scale the heights too soon .
In my first year at the RAM winning the Liszt Scholarship with the Liszt Sonata and a few weeks later failing the first year exam with the Hammerklavier.
I think Myra Hess and I will go down in history together !
It is no easy task with the complex almost schizophrenic character of Beethoven in these last sonatas that he was destined never to be able to hear.
Frustration and anger inevitably giving way to beauty ,joy and hope.
And so it was with great trepidation that we ventured to the Barbican to hear Kissin enter into the arena of the truly great interpreters with the mighty Hammerklavier.
A trial by fire indeed.
Many notable pianists , pedagogues and commentators were present as never before seen at a recital by Kissin.
Menahem Pressler in his 90’s flew in especially even though he had to leave for Germany the next morning to play Cesar Franck Quintet for the first time in his long and distinguished career.
Noretta Conci-Leech ,Sulamita Aranowska,Bryce Morrison,Gabriella Basatne,Dinara Klinton and many many more I am sure.
We were all cheering this great pianist at the end of a recital that will not be forgotten for years to come.
Sokolov was put to the trial a few seasons ago and triumphed as did Murray Perahia last season .
Would Kissin,undoubtedly one of the great virtuosi of our time come through this great trial?
After last night’s impeccable performance Kissin is now high up on my list.
A performance marked by a scrupulous attention to the composers wishes.
Rarely have I hear the pedal so well noted and interpreted with great imagination.
Some said that the slow movement was too romantic.
The most passionate performance I have ever heard was by the most severe of all pianists: Rudolf Serkin.
Just look at the score as he certainly did.
Adagio sostenuto- Appassionato e con molto sentimento.
Passion not in the romantic sense I am sure but a burning inner fire boiling over with red hot passion.
Beethoven was not a man to mince words.
And neither was Kissin tonight .
What Kissin brought to this the longest of all Beethoven’s slow movements was not only passion, which for me can never be enough, but it was the sense of orchestral colour and continual growth and forward movement after 20 minutes dissolving into nothing.
Only to reawaken so magically and in such an improvised way.
As though even Beethoven was in a trance and had to find his way again.
It was just this sense that Kissin captured tonight – the stillness and beauty was an unforgettable experience.
Unbelievable pianissimi and as Beethoven rarely asks pianississimi.
Interrupted by schizophrenic outbursts that Kissin captured to perfection as I have never heard before.
Leading to the mammoth Fugue.
A real tour de force of continual changes of direction of the most almost un pianistic writing that creates such a challenge for the pianist.
Every conceivable manipulation of the fugue subject possible.
Even played in reverse leading to the most enormous eruption and then the calm.
Una corda,sempre dolce cantabile before the final reawakening leading to the triumphant final trills.
The massive final chords played by Kissin as someone who has won.
Just as Serkin all those years ago was spitting and shouting on the last note.
He had arrived but was still living the fight right up until the final vibration gave way to total silence.
As it did today by a public as exhausted and exhilarated as obviously the slayer was himself.
I remember Richter at this point repeating the fugue in the RFH unsatisfied with what we thought a superhuman performance.
Annie Fischer will go down in history as playing the Fugue as an encore after a performance of Beethoven’s last Sonata.
She was only ,after all ,substituting for an indisposed Alfred Brendel !
She recorded the 32 Sonatas and spent months editing the tapes only to say they should never be released in her lifetime!
The most memorable thing of all in Kissin’s performance tonight was his insistence on thinking from the bass.
It gave such a monumental solidity to this massive work.
So many things became so clear this evening as never before.
There were many wonderful things on this memorable journey that one can only mention a few of the very many that will remain forever imprinted in my memory.
The wonderful layers of sound in the middle trio section of the scherzo.
Just as Beethoven asks if one looks at his very precise pedal indications ,
The wonderful final bars of the first movement reminded me of La Cathedrale Engloutie in the way in which the insistent rhythm gradually was seen disintegrating before our very eyes on a distant cloud of smoke.
Sempre dim,pp sempre,ppp crescendo ff . Could Beethoven ever have been more precise and shown more care.
I loved the espressivo and cantabile just before the reawakening at the end of the first movement development section.
Now that was romantic …that was Kissin …the only really personal opinion he allowed himself but could well be justified by the indications of espressivo.
It brought a smile to my face and a wish to check the score.
From the very first declaration the long pedal of Beethoven so tellingly noted .
Forte yes but with the pedal not the usual clean clear fortissimo call to arms that we are so often treated to.
A truly memorable performance .
It was interesting to note in the programme a reference to a letter that Beethoven wrote to his pupil Ferdinand Ries that the middle movements could be interchanged.
In a discussion with Peter Frankl we were trying to think how?
Peter Frankl had played the 32 sonatas for the BBC dividing the task with Andre Tchaikowsky.
I remembered a talk that Andre, a super intelligent musical genius, gave about this very subject.
Of course this was the reason and neither I nor Peter Frankl could remember if he did in fact reverse the order in his recorded performance and if so how!
It will remain a mystery as I fear that much of the BBC archive has been wiped clean of so many important past interpretations!
New brooms and all that!
After the interval we were treated to the repertoire that Kissin has become celebrated for over the past forty years.
Played like the God he is ……….a young God ….for this is a Kissin reborn.
Recently having found true happiness as is so obvious from his playing today.
So rich in a wish to communicate and to share the enjoyment with his adoring public.
How could one single out a single one of the 10 Preludes by Rachmaninov that he played.
The famous G minor op 23 n.5 was the most overwhelming for the enormous build up in sonority,never with any harshness. The melting cantabile of the romantic middle section where the inner melodies were so subtly understated.
The impish characterisation of the 3rd prelude op 23 Tempo di minuetto. Scarbo like in its disappearance.
The overwhelming magnificence of the B flat n.2 with the melodic line so warm and sumptuously sung amidst the most delicate filigree accompaniment.
The sheer romantic beauty of the E flat n.6 played with a masculine beauty that allowed the music of great sentiment to almost play itself.
As had the beautiful cantabile prelude that is n.4 in D major.
The busyness of the C minor n.7 was absolutely breathtaking with the great melodic line shaped with such sense of colour and grandiosita’.
The heartrending “Return” as Moisewitch told us was Rachmaninov’s own description of the tone poem that is op 32 n.10.
Such nostalgia,the insistent repeated chords a mere layer of sound to the majestic melodic line in the bass.
The well known G sharp minor op 32.n.12 thrown off with such ease was absolute perfection
The majesty of the final D flat major op 32 n.13 was a memorable way to finish a recital where a new King has undoubtedly been crowned.
Treated to the beautiful Scriabin Study in C sharp minor op 2 n.1 we thought a perfect way to end the recital.
With a public in delirium and a conqueror who had undoubtedly triumphed Kissin sat down to play a piece of his own.
A toccata he called it .
It would have have had Yuja Wang and Marc Andre Hamelin rushing to check.
A most amazing exhibition of old style virtuosity and teasingly playing with his audience as Cherkassky used to do with Morton Goulds’ Boogie Woogie Etude.
Yes this too was Boogie Woogie but Kissin’s and he was enjoying every minute of his new found fun.
A public that would not leave the hall was, after much insistence,but not that much as Kissin was having fun too.
THE Prelude .
What could be more fitting for a composer that had died only 70 years ago this week.
An amazing range of sound from the multi colours found whithin the chords to the enormous sonorities all played with such ease. The melting away at the end was heartrending and created a stillness where one could have heard a pin drop from an audience literally hypnotized by this great magician.
Not so hypnotized though that they could not squeeze just one more moment from this memorable evening .
Tchaikowsky Meditation was Kissin’s fond farewell to us on this Maundy Thursday