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Concert Review: The Messiah Complex

By Superconductor @ppelkonen
Evgeny Kissin returns to Carnegie Hall.
by Paul J. Pelkonen

Concert Review: The Messiah Complex

The chosen one, at the controls. Evgeny Kissing at Carnegie Hall.
Photo by Steve J. Sherman.

"Oh my God," the woman said. "He's amazing! He's like the Chosen One!"
Everybody loves a good salvation story, which might be why the above was said about Evgeny Kissin at intermission (right next to my seat) at last night's Carnegie Hall concert.. The storied Russian pianist made his yearly visit to the historic venue with an intelligently constructed program, dovetailing neatly between the development of music for his instrument in the 19th and 20th centuries. As the recital was sold out, Carnegie Hall added seating on the Perelman Stage, both behind and to the left of the artist as he played.
The concert started with Mr. Kissin playing three of Chopin's Nocturnes, each drawn from a different opus number in the composer's catalog. Gentle lyricism and singing tone were the order of the day here, as the pianist made the most of his instrument's singing tone and Chopin's softly cascading rhythms. Each of these slow movements played together formed a coherent musical trilogy, although there is no special interrelation between the original works. The links here were of Mr. Kissin's invention but the poetic statement was more than valid.
Schumann's Piano Sonata No. 3 was an all-out declaration of love for the pianist Clara Wieck, who the composer would later marry. It is also a hybrid work, a piano concerto for solo instrument alone. This would be a path on which Schumann would have few followers, although other sophisticated piano composers would attempt similar creative feats in the years to follow.
Following the hot-house languors of the Chopin, the Schumann sonata acted a bracing shake of the senses. Mr. Kissin delved deep into the complicated left-hand arpeggios and the right-hand's melodic line searching for solutions or at least solace in the stormy first movement. The famous Andantino with its set of slowly developing variations on a ground bass looks backward to Beethoven and forward to Brahms in its rigorous thematic development.
Mr. Kissin brought all of his weapons to bear on the final movement of the Sonata, marked Prestissimo possible. Here at last was the artist in his fire breathing glory, summoning a storm of right-hand ornamentation to leap forward under the surging bass. Descending notes hinted at a possible Dies irae but the overall mood here was one of happy virtuosity triumphing over romantic doom and gloom. It was simply thrilling stuff.
To start the second half, Mr. Kissin took his eager listeners on a tour through both books of Debussy piano preludes, creating a journey that alternated between fast and slow movements. This allowed the sheer radical nature of Debussy's writing for the piano to thrust forward, as these works each pushed the sonic envelope in new and distinct ways. "Danseuse de Delphes" was quiet and lyrical and "Les collines d'Anacapri" seemed to predict jazz. The little tour culminated in "Feux d'artifice", a radical creation of stabbing, wide intervals over a perpetual motion figure, this one in the right hand.
There was one sonata on this program: the No. 4 by Scriabin. This quirky two-movement work shifts moods and intervals rapidly, from the open latticework of the slow movement to the lurching Prestissimo with its hints of Wagner's Tristan surging somewhere in the middle. Mr. Kissin then returned for three stellar encores: Schumann's beloved Traumerei, Debussy's Golliwog's Cakewalk from Childrens Corner and finally what the capacity crowd wanted, a brilliant Chopin waltz.
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