There can be no doubt that Evgeny
Kissin possesses one of the most dazzling techniques of any pianist
today (only Pletnev matches it); the question, however, perhaps asked
more of Kissin today than other great pianist, is to what purpose he
puts that technique. It is certainly not at the service of the music
– at least if his wayward performance of Schubert’s B flat major, D960
sonata is anything to go by.
It was fascinating to look at the
concentration on Mr Kissin’s face as he meandered through its first
two movements; for, that same concentration distilled itself into boredom
for the listener. I don’t think I have ever heard the opening movement
taken so slowly (even allowing for the fact he took the repeat) – every
note was heavily phrased, to the extent that the movement became fragmentary
under the intrusiveness of his finger work. Even allowing for the fact
that most of those two movements are written in pp or ppp
Mr Kissin made little effort to differentiate between the dynamics.
Where there should have been a ravishing keyboard colour there was actually
none; where there should have been a poetic sweep to the playing there
was just a sombre, leaden descriptiveness. If the last two movements
fared better – a skittish, although hardly mercurial, Scherzo – and
an opaque, but usually dramatic Allegro – it was partly because Schubert’s
Leonine writing was here more in touch with Mr Kissin’s own mind frame.
The second half opened with a poor
performance of Ständschen which threatened to be as innocuous
as the sonata which had preceded it but things improved with the following
three transcriptions – Das Wandern, Wohin and Aufenthalt
where his tone settled.
Much better were his performances
of two Liszt showpieces – Sonetto CIV del Patrarca and Mephisto
Waltz No.1. His performance of the Petrarch sonnet perhaps missed
some of the work’s intricate lyricism, but the translucency of Mr Kissin’s
keyboard control, especially at the top of the keyboard’s register,
was often ear-catching, even beguiling. Some hard pedalling aside, this
was a performance which concentrated on the operatic.
From a sheerly technical viewpoint,
Mr Kissin’s performance of the Mephisto Waltz No.1 was incandescent.
Few present could have ever heard a performance before this one in which
the grip was so tight, the clarity of finger work so precise and the
effervescence of the interpretation so electrifying (at times during
the work I wondered exactly how Mr Kissin would approach Liszt’s Totentanz).
Emotionally, the work calls for none of the demands of the Schubert
and as such his use of rubato was minimal and unobtrusive, perhaps the
perfect reason why the performance worked in the way that it did; as
a virtuoso display for a pianist overflowing with Lisztian bravura.
I stayed only for the first encore
– Schubert’s Impromptu Op.90, No. 3 – and was left wondering just what
future this musician has; the performance simply failed to convince
in the way that it should, with all of Schubert’s simplicity of expression
teased out into something much less appropriate. Mr Kissin is almost
the reverse of the typical child prodigy: usually it is the technique
which falters in later years, not the intellect. Much of this programme
was conceived on high intellectual values but it was the intellect behind
it that was largely missing. It maybe that Mr Kissin is beginning to
believe in the cult status that has been lauded upon him by an uncritical
audience; for some of us, however, something much greater is required: