Kissin, albeit having a fantastic technical arsenal, in this recording, uses it for purely pianistic effect. Chopin's lucidity; the way his music ebbs and flows, is sacrificed, and thus the recording fails to captivate. What one really needs, in my opinion, in the Ballades, is a sense of a tale. Chopin, like Schumann, can really tell a story in the Ballades.
Think of the second Ballade. The atmosphere on the surface is gentle, and lyrical. Underneath this veneer of calm, though, there is a slightly obsessive, darker undercurrent to the piece. Kissin, totally fails to evoke this physcological undercurrent, whereas someone like Arrau or Moiseiwitsch, or even Tamas Vasary, brings to this music simultaeneously a technical accomplishment, wholly at the service of the music. Schumann spoke of the second Ballade,
"the music would inspire a poet to write words to it," he said, ironically, considering its possible poetical inspiration as a piece of music
Would Kissin's playing inspire a poet, or is his approach to abstract, too fantastic?
The line between pianism and artistry is perilous. A performance can sound musically impressive, yet technically lacking and vice versa; the music can be too safe, too technically impressive to offer any hidden insights. Some pianists tend to distort the music, adding their own expression, their own dynamics... Kissin, unfortunately, for me, at the moment seems of this tendency, along, sometimes, with Horowitz.
Horowitz and Kissin (not all of the time) bend around with the music until it is moulded into their own labrynth, and violate the music. Chopin was said, like Schubert to have despised the thumping of virtuosos. Kissen needs to heed this advice!
Those who admire this performer, really ought to listen to the playing of Vlado Perlemuter, a real poet in sound. He mastered a whole spectrum of tonal perspective, as a means to an end, and his playing of Chopin and Ravel,like Schnabels' Schubert, at it's best was incomparable.
p.s I heard Kissen play at the Proms in London. He played Brahms 2. The performance was sickening. It's delivery was at breakneck speed, and had little if any artistic insight. To quote Kaikhosru Shapurji Sorabji (changing the original quotation's description of the music of an English composer with performer) his perfomance,
"underneath it's trumpery of Pinchbeck Brummagem-Benares nick-nackery, oozes with glutinous commonplace."Playing" (this is not Sorabji's word, but mine) like this always reminds one of those spurious "liqueur" chocolates grandly labelled "Grand Marnier", "Maraschino", Benedictine", leading one to expect the delicious gastronomic sensations, the incomparable marquis knows so well how to excite, but which are found actually to yield a horrid sickly sugary concoction- insipid and nauseating."
This reflects Kissin's style in a microcosm.
Buy it if you wish, but beware!!