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Saturday, May 4, 2013

Concert Review: Winning the Bear

Evgeny Kissin plays Carnegie Hall.
by Ellen Fishbein
The pianist Evgeny Kissin returned to Carnegie Hall on Friday night.
Photo © EMI Classics.
On Friday night, pianist Evgeny Kissin presented a program at Carnegie Hall that was a thoughtful reflection on the passage of time. Sticking close to the standard repertory, the pianist tracked the development of piano music from Haydn through the works of Beethoven, Schubert and Liszt.

The program opened with Franz Josef Haydn's E Major Piano Sonata, a work that epitomizes the Viennese classical style. Haydn's crisp, almost regimented counterpoint did not constrain Mr. Kissin's playing. Each phrase seemed like a surprise. During each contrasting gesture, the pianist changed character rapidly, giving Haydn's music a new, almost contemporary flavor while staying true to its form and intimate character. As he played, Mr. Kissin never broke character. Even the pauses between movements were planned, expresing a distinct awareness and purpose. This was a mature, discerning interpretation of Haydn's music.

The next selection was Beethoven's final piano sonata, No. 32 in C minor, which represented the next leap forward in musical history. This sonata has only two movements. The first is fast and bracing, the second reverent and calm. Mr. Kissin brought a sincere, almost childlike interpretation, exploring Beethoven's dynamics with gusto. He shifted between fortes and pianissimos, painting from a broad palette. This youthful, unembellished performance challenged the audience to engage with the music directly.

Having visited 1790 with Haydn and 1822 with Beethoven, Mr. Kissin highlighted the stylistic shift that occurred in just five years with four of Franz Schubert’s 1827 Impromptus. As he contrasted Beethoven and Schubert’s styles, he also moved into a new artistic space. Mr. Kissin played the Schubert with a loving familiarity, seeming to invite the audience to peer in at him as if he were playing in a private salon. This performance lay somewhere between the maturity of the Haydn and the youthfulness of the Beethoven.

Mr. Kissin concluded with Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12. In the short piece, he revealed a renewed ardor that had been only peripherally present in the other selections. His performance was ecstatic; still, Mr. Kissin did not lose his decisive control over the music. Mr. Kissin distinguished himself by playing accurately even during the most windswept, rapturous passages.

An explosive, universal standing ovation demanded several encores, and Mr. Kissin used them to continue to explore the same chronological window. Among his encores, he featured Liszt once again, alongside an introspective performance of Christoph Gluck’s “A Melody.” The passion and intergenerational appeal touched at least one young audience member: at the end of the evening, Mr. Kissin walked offstage with a teddy bear.

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