> Evgeny Kissin (Bach-Busoni-Glinka-Mussorgsky) [CC]: Classical Reviews- May2002 MusicWeb(UK)

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Johann Sebastian BACH (1685-1750)/Ferrucio BUSONI (1866-1924)
Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C, BWV564.

Mikhail GLINKA (1804-57)
The Lark (arr. Balakirev).
Modest MUSSORGSKY (1839-81)
Pictures at an Exhibition.

Evgeny Kissin (piano).
Recorded at SWR-Studio, Freiburg, Germany on August 5th-6th, 2001.
RCA Red Seal 09026-63884-2 [57’25]


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Recordings by Evgeny Kissin are always eagerly awaited. On paper, this programme should work well: the Mussorgsky is true virtuoso fare; the Bach/Busoni is born out of the Romantic tradition; the Glinka/Balakirev from the self-same Russian line as the Mussorgsky.

The Bach/Busoni of 1900 is an enormous conception (nearly twenty minutes long). One cannot but admire the technical aspects of Kissin’s performance: the sterling fingerwork; the clear laying-out of part-writing. Yet it was Busoni himself that referred to this work as ‘majestic, rich in feeling and bold’ and Kissin does indeed miss the grandeur inherent in this piece. Fortes can be harsh (there is a subito forte around 5’17 which is just uncomfortable), and the effect is highlighted by the bright recording. The Fugue is the best, with an impressive build-up to the climax, almost as if Kissin wanted the listener to forget the Toccata and the Adagio.

Kissin certainly seems more at home in the Balakirev’s arrangement of Glinka’s song, ‘The Lark’ (the arrangement dates from around 1864, and was revised in 1900): the treble is limpidly and affectingly projected and there is real delicacy here. It is not unfair to say that this five-minute piece provides the highlight of the disc.

I have covered Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition for the ‘Seen and Heard’ section of this site a couple of times over the last season: Pletnev played it quirkily recently at the Royal Festival Hall in March 2002; Andreas Boyde at the Wigmore gave a considered reading in November 2001. Kissin’s reading is cumulative in effect (and possibly in intent). The opening ‘Promenade’, however (and hence the ‘possibly’) is too quick to contain any great import (it has too much of a spring in its step). ‘Tuileries’ needs more wit, not a quality one readily associated with this pianist. ‘Il vecchio castello’, however, is hypnotic and gives a hint of some of the things to come later in Kissin’s interpretation, and later on the ‘Market Place in Limoges’ appropriately bustles with life while ‘Catacombs’ is boldly stated. ‘The Hut on Fowl’s Legs (Baba-Yaga)’ is truly impressive: so much so, in fact, that it rather overshadows the ‘Great Gate’. If it is Pictures you are after, save a few pennies and go to the incomparably greater Sviatoslav Richter on the mid-price Philips 464 734-2.

Colin Clarke



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