YEVGENY KISSIN: MUSIC OF S
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This recital disc, recorded when Kissin was still in his teens, displays the phenomenal pianist's command of a spectrum extending from exuberant virtuoso style to deep-gazing, lyrical inwardness. Both, in fact, are present in the marvelous sonata-length Wanderer-Fantasie of Schubert. Kissin launches into its compulsive dactylic rhythm with an energy that soon sets sparks flying. It's a fiendishly difficult piece--in particular the fugal finale--which the composer himself could barely play, yet Kissin keeps our attention riveted on Schubert's promethean inventiveness. The Adagio's gently spun beauties as rendered here begin to approach the sphere of late Beethoven. Some Schubert song settings elaborately transcribed by Liszt are also included, to gorgeous effect. Kissin explores the inner world of Brahms's Op. 116 Fantasies with supreme sensitivity and an intuitive grasp of their densely concentrated vision. But when it comes to the athletic turns and scampering gymnastics of Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12, Kissin can communicate a giddy mood of unlimited prowess and agility. This is the kind of artist whose every stage of development proves fascinating as he continues to mature. --Thomas May
Top Customer Reviews
There's no mistaking it, the divine spark is here and no sense of the assembly-line virtuoso that I suppose is what Horowitz and Michelangeli were complaining about. In the Wanderer Fantasy Kissin is his own man, taking a more romantic view of the first section than Richter or Pollini. As with Richter (here at his very best) there is a warmth to the playing that I miss from Pollini, and I have to say that Richter is fully equalled by the kid with all the hair gazing out solemnly from the back of the record box. Obviously Kissin has the advantage of up-to-date recorded sound, but other than that any choice between Kissin and Richter is going to be a matter of details and personal temperament, so I prefer not to choose but to have both. In the Brahms pieces I was able to compare Kissin with the classic performance from Katchen's omnibus edition, and the first thing that struck me was that Kissin is an absolute natural for Brahms. The rubato is supremely natural and the tempi in the four slow pieces are, to my ears, definitely better chosen. The first 3 intermezzi gain in eloquence from Kissin's slower speeds, and the strange and very inward E minor is genuinely played 'con intimissimo sentimento'. Katchen misses this one, I feel.Read more ›
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
There's no mistaking it, the divine spark is here and no sense of the assembly-line virtuoso that I suppose is what Horowitz and Michelangeli were complaining about. In the Wanderer Fantasy Kissin is his own man, taking a more romantic view of the first section than Richter or Pollini. As with Richter (here at his very best) there is a warmth to the playing that I miss from Pollini, and I have to say that Richter is fully equalled by the kid with all the hair gazing out solemnly from the back of the record box. Obviously Kissin has the advantage of up-to-date recorded sound, but other than that any choice between Kissin and Richter is going to be a matter of details and personal temperament, so I prefer not to choose but to have both. In the Brahms pieces I was able to compare Kissin with the classic performance from Katchen's omnibus edition, and the first thing that struck me was that Kissin is an absolute natural for Brahms. The rubato is supremely natural and the tempi in the four slow pieces are, to my ears, definitely better chosen. The first 3 intermezzi gain in eloquence from Kissin's slower speeds, and the strange and very inward E minor is genuinely played 'con intimissimo sentimento'. Katchen misses this one, I feel. The second of the two E major pieces shows up a characteristic that Katchen never quite grew out of in his all-too-short career, namely the well-meant delusion that greater 'depth', 'expressiveness', 'spirituality' or whatever is attained by playing pianissimo where the composer wrote 'piano' and playing adagio where the composer wrote 'andante'. This piece is not even andante but 'andantino' yet Katchen plays it adagio. Kissin's tempo is very reasonable as an andantino, but you might be surprised how the piece comes to life if you play it for yourself at a more flowing speed than we usually hear. In the three fast pieces I can't be so clear in my preference as both are excellent. The most striking diference is in the G minor capriccio with the central section featuring the one one and only big tune that I can recall in Brahms's solo piano music. Katchen is fast and ardent, Kissin slow and majestic. I can't make up my mind. Why should I have to?
Liszt's 4 Schubert song arrangements are wonderful. Liszt was at his best when someone else, e.g. Schubert or Verdi, provided the actual music. The power of these familiar melodies comes over in a new light, especially as played with effortless grandeur, sensitivity and flexibility by Kissin. There is also one of Liszt's own Hungarian Rhapsodies, and the playing is pretty terrific without quite persuading me, as Horowitz and Cziffra (almost) do that Liszt's original compositions are anything but absolute bobbins as music.
I shall be acquiring more of Kissin's work and listening out hard to try to catch a true individual voice as I catch it from Horowitz, Michelangeli, Richter, Serkin or Cziffra. Looking through some reviews I am pleased to see that people are keeping their critical faculties alert and not heaping on Kissin the indiscriminate plaudits that really do an injustice to Richter --he was a far more complex phenomenon than you would think to read much of it. One touch I have already noticed - Kissin understands the expressive potential of separating his hands, but as often as not plays the right hand first, which is a new one on me. I want to hear more.
The opening selection is Schubert's Fantasie in C. Its themes are based on a Schubert song, "The Wanderer," composed six years earlier, and the Fantasie is generally known by that name as well. Schubert interrupted composing his B-minor symphony ("Unfinished") to compose this piano work at the request of a wealthy amateur pianist. It's a virtuosic work noted for its difficulty; Schubert had trouble playing it himself, and of the concluding section said, "Only the devil can play it." The work is continuous but in four sections, an opening allegro con fuoco, an adagio, a scherzo, and a concluding allegro that is quasi-fugal. The slow section quotes the Wanderer song in its entirety, and the other sections are based on abbreviated versions of the theme's opening notes in quicker time. It's one of Schubert's greatest works and was greatly admired by Franz Liszt, who arranged an orchestral version of the piano score.
Many well known pianists have recorded the Wanderer Fantasie. Among the most admired performances are those of Sviatoslav Richter and Alfred Brendel. Richter's is notable for its energetic drive, and Brendel's for bringing out melodic lines. Kissin's performance contains a good measure of each of these qualities and, in my opinion, is the equal of these two great performers. He brings out the gorgeous lyricism of the adagio section, but one senses that there is coiled energy ready to burst forth, as it does in the middle of the section. In the fugal finale, he's pure dynamite. He's been accorded crisp sound which complements accurate pedaling; there's no muddiness in this performance.
Liszt arranged several Schubert songs for piano alone, with more elaborate settings than Schubert originally used, four of which are heard here. It's praiseworthy that Kissin's performances of these heartfelt pieces are good at emphasizing the basic melodic structure and keeping Liszt's added frills in the background. These are delightful renditions of some of Schubert's best songs.
Brahms composed and published his Fantasies for piano, Opus 116, in 1892. The Fantasies comprise seven short piano pieces called either capriccios or intermezzos. The andante or adagio intermezzos are well within the grasp of good amateur pianists; the livelier capriccios are more challenging. Many pianists have recorded these pieces as well as other sets that Brahms also wrote: Op. 117, 118, and 119. Kissin takes a very romantic approach to these short pieces, not inappropriate considering that Brahms marked No. 3 as "Allegro passionato," No. 5 as "Andante con grazia ed intimissimo sentimento," and No. 6 as "Andantino teneramente." Kissin takes rather slow tempos in the intermezzos compared to others; his andantes are almost adagios, and the adagio of No. 4 is molto adagio. He also uses a lot of rubato, little of which is actually indicated in the score. His playing of these selections resembles a recording I've heard of Emil Gilels performing them, except that Kissin uses a lighter touch. In his hands, No. 5 takes on a ghostly character. These interpretations are not run-of-the-mill, and one wonders what Brahms would have thought of them, but they have a certain appeal of their own and provide an interesting take on Brahms' piano music.
The concluding selection is Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 in C-sharp Minor. This piece, based on Hungarian folk tunes and one of 19 rhapsodies, was composed in 1853. As usual with Liszt, one of the 19th Century's greatest piano virtuosos, this rhapsody is full of runs and other pianistic daredeviltry and requires a very accomplished pianist. Kissin rises to the occasion and shows off his skill in playing this kind of virtuoso music.
In summary, Kissin is an exceptionally talented pianist whose performances on this recording are very impressive. His "Wanderer" is the best thing here and rivals any that I've heard. The Schubert songs are beautifully done, and the Rhapsody gives him another chance to show off his virtuosic ability. There may be some qualms about his performances of the Brahms works, but I found them interesting and enjoyable in their own way.
The quality of the recording is high, with very realistic piano sound. The recording is available as both a CD and an MP3 file. Since I got the MP3, I'm unable to comment on any brochure that comes with the CD.
The four Schubert transcriptions by Liszt are excellently played. From the poignant ache of "Gretchen am Spinnrade" to the delightful joy of "Hark, Hark, the Lark" to the ache of the "The Miller and the Brook" and the glory of "To Sing on the Water". Kissin shows a great range and again, makes it all sound so easy.
Then Brahms Opus 116 is also an interesting choice for this disk. These are seven short works but are late Brahms and require musical maturity to go with the technique. I think I enjoy this performance of these pieces about the most I have ever heard. They are worth listening to again and again.
The last work on the disk, the Liszt "Hungarian Rhapsodie No. 12" is a problem for me. Kissin plays it with great virtuosity and each portion sounds great. However, this is not great music. I hate to say it, but it isn't. To pull it off, the pianist has to bring a sense of conviction to it. Even if he doesn't believe it himself, he has to make the audience believe that HE believes this is great music. Otherwise it comes across with a wheeze and you can here the handle cranking on the music machine. I am afraid that as well as Kissin plays the work, it did not convince me.