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Brilliant Classics

Evgeny Kissin in Concert
Pyotr Ilyich TCHAIKOVSKY (1840-1893)

Piano Concerto No. 1 in B flat minor Op. 23
St. Petersburg Academic Symphony Orchestra/Valery Gergiev
Dmitri SHOSTAKOVICH (1906-1975)

Concerto for Piano, Trumpet and Orchestra in C minor Op. 35
Bernard Soustrot, trumpet; St. Petersburg Chamber Orchestra/Vladimir Spivakov
Recorded 30 March 1987 (Tchaikovsky) 26 December 1988 (Shostakovich)
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Piano Concerto No. 1 in E minor Op. 11
Piano Concerto No. 2 in F minor Op. 21
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra/Dmitri Kitaenko
[Recorded ?27 March 1984]
Franz LISZT (1811-1886)

La Leggierezza
Liebestraum No. 3 in A flat major
Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12 in C sharp minor
Etude d’exécution transcendante No. 10 in F minor "Appassionata"
Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)

Études symphoniques Op. 13
Abegg Variations Op. 1
Widmung (Transcription Franz Liszt)
Recorded 23 May 1983 and 26 February 1989
Fryderyk CHOPIN (1810-1849)

Waltz No. 14 in E minor Op. Posth.
Mazurka in F minor Op. 63 No. 2
Mazurka in D flat major Op. 30 No. 3
Mazurka in B flat minor Op. 24 No. 4
Mazurka in F minor Op. 68 No. 4
Mazurka in C sharp minor Op. 50 No. 3
Fantasie in F minor Op. 49
Piano Sonata No. 3 in B minor Op. 58
Recorded 23 May 1984 and 26 February 1989
Evgeny Kissin (piano)
BRILLIANT CLASSICS 92118 [4 CDs 56.28+63.05+65.45+56.21]


This set is described as being from historic recordings from the Russian Archives. Being as the recordings date from the 1980s one can be understandably sceptical about the over-used epithet ‘historic’. But in this case the description ‘historic’ is altogether justified. These four discs document the development of one of the most remarkable pianistic talents of our time. The discs span the years 1983 to 1989, covering Evgeny Kissin’s development as a pianist from the age of 11 to 17. They include the recording of the famous concert, in March 1984, when Kissin, then aged 12, played both the Chopin piano concertos. It was this concert which brought him to international prominence. What was truly remarkable about his talent was not his dexterity, phenomenal though that was, but his stupendously developed emotional response to the music. The music on this disc just does not sound as if it was being played by a twelve year old child. His talent does appear almost fully formed from the outset; he is possessed of remarkable strength and a wonderfully strong singing line.

The Chopin First Piano Concerto opens with a very robust peroration by the Moscow Philharmonic, marred by pitch variation in the recording. At this stage one is not too hopeful about the quality of the performance. But then, finally, Kissin enters displaying a fine cantabile; poetry combined with remarkable strength. The orchestra prove a surprisingly fleet and subtle accompaniment. There are times when his wonderful sense of line is combined with an unexpected toughness. These are Chopin interpretations which are poetic without being overly sentimental. And throughout the disc Kissin displays a heart-stopping pianistic range.

This strength and ability to play loudly are on display in the opening of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto. Recorded shortly before his 16th birthday, for this recording he has the support of the St. Petersburg Academic Symphony Orchestra conducted by Valery Gergiev. Between them, Gergiev and Kissin create a stunning opening. Kissin is one of those rare pianists who possess the strength and cunning to be able to play expressively whilst playing loudly. But this bravura power is only one of the characteristics that a pianist needs to play this work. In the more skittish moments, Kissin seems to be overly careful. Once past the opening, the liaison between pianist and conductor seems to be constantly on the careful side. So that, for all his pianistic range and sheer power, the performance does not quite develop as fully as one would like. In the second movement, his playing is delightfully light-fingered, but again omits that element of skittishness that can be brought to bear. But, you have to keep on telling yourself, he is not quite 16.

The Tchaikovsky is coupled with a recording of the Shostakovich Concerto for Piano, Trumpet and Orchestra recorded just over a year later. Kissin’s discography does not include that many 20th century works. So this recording makes fascinating listening, even if the concerto does come over as being one that Kissin is overly in sympathy with. The sound on this recording is not quite so good and the piano comes over as very glassy; I am not convinced that it is quite in tune. Kissin plays the piano solos in a brilliant, hard-edged way, giving the piece a very crystalline texture. This very sober reading works best in the slower movements. A previous Gramophone review of a recording of this concerto by Kissin with the same conductor described that performance as one of the most vulgar performances the reviewer had come across. I can’t really describe this recording as vulgar, but what the piece lacks is that essential sense of irony and fun.

These four concertos are coupled with recordings of piano music by Chopin, Liszt, and Schumann ranging from some of the earliest recordings on the discs (Liszt’s ‘Waldesrauschen’, ‘La Leggierezza’ and his transcription of Schumann’s ‘Widmung’) to the most recent recording on the disc (Chopin’s 3rd Piano Sonata). The earliest recordings are marred a little by a rather glassy piano sound, but remain stunning as a testament to the 11 year old Kissin’s development, both emotionally and technically, as a pianist. In the later recordings the tone seems to darken, the performances develop a greater depth; Kissin starts to dig closer to the emotional heart of the pieces. There is more harnessing of virtuosity towards exploring greater intensity. The discs conclude with a stupendous performance of the Chopin Piano Sonata by the 17 year old Kissin.

These discs are essential listening for anyone interested in the development of fine pianism. None of the recordings is a library choice, but as the testament to the development of one of the 20th century’s most remarkable pianists they should be on everyone’s library shelves.

Robert Hugill

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