Despite Evgeny Kissin's rapid evolution from teenage wunderkind of the keyboard to a mature master of the piano, he hasn't lost the boldly romantic style that wowed everyone at his American debut in 1990. In this day of correct but faceless pianists, the 30-year-old Russian's dashing, impetuous, nearly impeccable pianism comes across that much more impressively.
Kissin opened the Symphony Center piano series Sunday at Orchestra Hall with an extraordinary recital people will talk about for years to come. The place was packed, including stage and terrace seats. If the rudeness of this cough-happy, flashbulb-popping throng disturbed his concentration, he didn't let it show during a long, demanding program that ended with a profusion of encores.
To witness such fiery but controlled command from any pianist, one would have to summon fond memories of Vladimir Horowitz. And indeed, there was more than a trace of the late, great Volodya in Kissin's program, which included several big Horowitz specialties, including Mussorgsky's "Pictures at an Exhibition."
The bushy-haired Kissin entered, bowed stiffly to the audience and launched vigorously into the Bach-Busoni Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C.
His organlike sonority was remarkable despite the fact he got little help from the quirky stage acoustics or the rather shallow tone of the Steinway. Even so, the Adagio had majesty and depth, while the Fugue was a marvel of clarity and urgency.
Schumann's Sonata No. 1 in F-sharp, Opus 11, is prime Kissin territory in its embrace of Romantic extremes. An almost Byronic yearning for the ineffable runs through its four movements, and much the same feeling pervaded Kissin's performance. He attacked the Sturm und Drang of the opening movement fearlessly but with complete aplomb, effectively contrasting this with the tender lyricism of the second theme. His crisp articulation of detail gave consistent pleasure, while his poetic account of the Aria made it a song without words.
All this was but a bagatelle before the main event, "Pictures at an Exhibition." In Kissin's pulverizingly brilliant account, the Hartmann portrait gallery took on colors to rival Ravel's well-known orchestration. He took the first Promenade at a rapid clip, like a young man in a hurry to show us what he could do. Unlimited power seemed his to command. Kissin had big ideas about the piece, not all of them absolutely convincing (the clipped phrasing of "Gnomus," the poky deliberation of "Old Castle"). But one was awe-struck by the sheer sweep and personality of his playing.
After the final crashing chords of "The Great Gate of Kiev," the crowd jumped to its feet, roaring hosannas. You would have thought Kissin would be exhausted by then, but obviously the Mussorgsky just built up a second head of steam. So off he went on a half-hour marathon of five encores, each more stunningly played than the last.
They included a Balakirev miniature; transcriptions by Rachmaninov, Gruenfeld and Liszt of music by Mendelssohn, Johann Strauss and Verdi; and that Horowitz standby, Scriabin's Etude in D-sharp minor. Sensational playing, sensational pianist.Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times