reputation and place in the public eye,
his most recent records have disappointed
some critics. Nevertheless, there is
always a huge feeling of anticipation
on a new release and this was no exception
for me. How would this towering virtuoso
approach Schubertís last sonata and
its simultaneously simple and difficult
Postponing an account
of that reaction for a moment, I must
say that this CD is worth buying for
the account of the Mephisto Waltz alone.
Kissinís overwhelming performance is
the product of compendious pianistic
resource; crystalline scales, powerful
but sharply-etched octaves, delicate
trills, precipitous leaps Ė itís all
there. This workís reputation as a display
piece, though well-deserved, has tended
to obscure its purely musical and structural
virtues. Like the B minor Sonata, this
first Mephisto Waltz is unified by thematic
transformation and Kissin gets across
this structural integrity to perfection.
He also captures beautifully the languid
eroticism of the slow version of Faustís
theme, music that would not be out of
place in a late-night piano bar in an
exotic neighbourhood of one the worldís
great cities. There are contemporary
hints of Tristan and, well in
the future, of Scriabin. This is a performance
of the highest class; virtuosity at
the service of musicality.
transcriptions are of equal quality.
Liszt makes Schubertís rather chaste
serenade much more sensual, a poem delivered
across the bed rather from underneath
the balcony. The imitations of the last
stanza suggest the loversí duetting
appassionato (a listener with
a vivid imagination might detect a hint
of "Over the Rainbow" near the end).
I canít imagine a better performance
The three other transcriptions
fare equally well, in particular, Lisztís
depiction of Rellstabís "rushing torrent"
and "howling forest" in Aufenthalt.
In Kissinís hands, Liszt, for all the
virtuoso bravura, never overwhelms Schubertís
melodies. The miniature tone poems that
result show just how acutely Liszt penetrated
to the essence of the songs.
But all that Ė and
it is absolutely top-drawer Ė is only
a third of the disc. Schubertís last
sonata, especially the first movement,
challenges the pianist from the very
first statement of the theme. And Kissin
disappointed immediately; that first
statement, potentially so magical, is
laboured, hampered by huge agogic accents,
weighed down by its own portentousness.
I wanted to say, "just play the notes"!
Semplice, donít try so hard!
There is some wonderful cantabile playing
in this movement and Kissin is more
straightforward when there is more happening
but the most songlike projection does
not redeem for me this misconceived
fares as badly. Itís not just a matter
of tempo; the spirit of the music is
absent. The theme is melancholy enough
but sadness does not necessarily mean
slowness. It feels as if Kissin is striving
for an effect, to be different, though
the occasional vocal contributions suggest
that the pianist really is feeling what
he is playing.
The beautifully light
and skittish performances of the Scherzo
and Allegro finale return Kissin
to his best form. As with the Liszt,
I found myself totally involved in the
music; the finale shows an ideal balance
of cantabile melody and delicate accompaniment,
the little flashes of whimsy are delightful.
In summary, the performance
of the first two movements of the Schubert
is too mannered for a recommendation.
But buy this CD for masterly readings
of the Liszt works and you have the
bonus of two delicious sonata movements.
Iíd go for that!