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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Concert Review: Serious Moonlight

Evgeny Kissin at Carnegie Hall.
Evgeni Kissin, holding the score of
Scriabin's 24 Preludes.
by Paul Pelkonen
Evgeny Kissin has been a fixture on the international concert scene for the past three decades, ever since the Russian pianist made his debut in the Soviet Union at the age of 12. This season's recital at Carnegie Hall (on Wednesday night) featured the artist's take on familiar sonatas by Beethoven and Chopin, bracketing Samuel Barber's brilliant entry in that genre.

Mr. Kissin opened the concert with a treat for his listeners, the Moonlight Sonata. The opening was played at a glacial speed, with audience members closing their eyes in rapt ecstasy at Beethoven's deceptively simple opening figures. The movement also provided occasion for disapproving murmurs and the occasional acid glare, as listeners chose to express their displeasure at their raptures being disturbed.

Mr. Kissin seemed to show more poetic enthusiasm for the two movements that followed, a lilting dance figure that shows Beethoven at his most light-hearted and the pell-mell finale, taken at a dangerous speed that would be ill-advised for a pianist of lesser gifts. 

If the Moonlight sonata caused raptures in the sold-out house, then Samuel Barber's crystalline, acerbic sonata set the listeners on edge. Barber's piece was two years in its creation, and was premiered in 1949 by Vladimir Horowitz. Although this is a largely tonal sonata, the ideas behind it descent from the Second Viennese School of Schoenberg and Webern. The work opens with an initial tone-row that serves as the seed from which the four movements bloom. 

Mr. Kissin played this challenging work with emotion and dexterity, guiding his audience through the complex dissonant Scherzo and the Adagio mesto, an emotional slow movement. The sonata ended with a complex, contrapuntal fugue. When the interweaving themes resolved themselves back into the opening tone-row, it was a triumphant moment for composer and soloist.

The soloist brought the same serious purpose to the Chopin that followed: the A flat Nocturne and the Sonata No. 3. The Nocturne was lush and sensual, played with warm tonal colors that cast the spell of stillness once more upon the audience. The smaller piece also served as an effective slow introduction to the grand gestures of Chopin's final Sonata. 

Chopin is revered as the composer whose output shattered the traditional classical ideal of the multi-movement work for solo keyboard. However, this last sonata is one of his most traditional and classical in structure, with four broad movements and the audible influence of Johann Sebastian Bach. Mr. Kissin played with a rich flow of notes, leaning on the sustain pedal to create glissando effects up and down the keyboard that dazzled the audience and nearly caused early outbursts of applause.

The encore featured more Chopin (the A minor Mazurka) and a Beethoven rarity: the Six Variations in D Major. This latter piece Beethoven allowed Mr. Kissin to display a vast spectra of pianistic colors, from playful dances to martial figures that stirred. The encore ended with one last playful March, from The Love of Three Oranges by Serge Prokofiev. Not even the powerful unison clapping from the packed house could draw the soloist back for a fourth.

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Critical Thinking in the Cheap Seats