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Nimble Fingers with Trivial Mind

Hong Kong
Hong Kong Cultural Center, Tsim Sha Tsui
03/29/2009 -  
Sergei Prokofiev: Three Pieces from Romeo and Juliet, Op. 75: The Young Juliet, Mercutio, Montagues and Capulets Ė Piano Sonata No. 8 in B-flat major, Op. 84
Frederick Chopin: Polonaise-Fantaisie in A-flat major, Op. 61 Ė Three Mazurkas: Op. 30 No. 4, Op. 41 No. 4, and Op. 59 No.1 Ė Eight Etudes: Op. 10 Nos. 1-4 & 12, Op. 25 Nos. 5, 6, and 11

Evgeny Kissin (piano)

Evgeny Kissin (© Sasha Gusov/EMI Classics)

Hong Kong piano aficionados are all familiar with Evgeny Kissin, who frequently gives unforgettable recitals in this city. If someone missed his electrifying performances in 1997 and 2006, Sunday eveningís concert was a golden chance to compensate this pity.

Renowned by his impeccable virtuosity, Evgeny Kissinís nimble fingers have shaken many concertgoersí nerves all over the world. His masterly interpretation of Chopinís Piano Concertos at the age of twelve remained one of the top-selling recordings of these two masterpieces. Hong Kong audience must remember his distinguished piano recital in 1997, in which he played seven encores before putting the keyboard lid down. This time, Mr. Kissin once again demonstrated his magic of boiling audiencesí emotion, letting every attendee leave the concert hall with feverishness and fervour. However, what is really in question is the maturity of his musical mind, or more precisely, his apparent lack of it.

Prokofievís and Chopinís compositions have long been among Mr. Kissinís central repertoires, since his childhood until now, when he is in his 30s. It is not surprising he chose these works as the programs of his Asia tour. The first half was devoted to Sergei Prokofiev, with three pieces from Romeo and Juliet at curtain rise. Mr. Kissinís fingers struck every piano key with deep, profound, and full tone (though sometimes a little too harsh), inheriting the most typical Russian pianistic intonation from his predecessors. His thick texture and vivid dynamic contrast, the features throughout the first half, all evoked the orchestral version of this suite. But the conductor of this orchestra seemed more intent on mining the upper melody and bass lines, showing little interest in those hidden middle voices, making the music somehow too shallow and lacking intricacy.

Prokofievís Eighth Sonata, though impeccably rendered with transcendental technique, was another illustration exemplifying Mr. Kissinís featherbrained texture. The opening movement was sung with a deep and rich voice, which Prokofievís music needs. The scurrying runs in the middle section were diffused into melodic curves under his nimble fingers and hazy pedaling. In the Andante dolce sections and the Andante sognando second movement, Mr. Kissin emphasized the musicís serenity and gentleness rather than the lyrical and emotional side. For ears attuned to more refined and polished interpretations, such as those by William Kapell and Mikhail Pletnev, Mr. Kissinís version may sound a little monochromic, with the musicís beautiful lyricism buried amid his rigidly and studiedly calculated pace.

Though Chopin was one of Kissinís most favorite composers, the second half of his recital seemed not more exciting than the first. Mr. Kissinís harsh and rural Prokofievian tone persisted into the music of this Poet of the Piano, making Chopinís poems slightly jarring and jangle. His Polonaise-Fantaisie was again a plainspoken and aboveboard rendition, lacking Chopinís romanticized affection and poetic insight. Nonetheless, the whole piece was delivered with flowing and fluent phrasing arcs, without any artificiality and exaggeration. Perhaps a more extrovert Polonaise such as the Heroic or the Military is more suitable for Mr. Kissinís temperament.

The mazurka is a Polish folk dance in triple meter, usually with a lively tempo and heavy accent on the second or third beats. Many Polish composers, including Chopin, Wieniawski, and Szymanovski, composed Mazurkas as a ďclassicalĒ genre. Chopin brought this dance from rural villages to fashionable ballrooms and grand concert halls, and Mr. Kissin clearly realized this by rendering them as solemn and majestic concert showpieces, polishing the three Mazurkas (especially the A minor one) with refined details and beautiful craftsmanship. But the rhythmic interest and the rustic taste of these rural dances were missing.

The eight Chopin Etudes were a full display of Mr. Kissinís consummate virtuosity. He deliberately chose eight technically demanding Etudes to flaunt his infallible fingers, which he should always be proud of. The Op.10 Nos. 1 and 4 were rendered with blisteringly fast speed that can only be found in Cziffraís and Richterís versions. The ďChromaticĒ (Op. 25 No. 6) and ďThirdsĒ (Op. 10 No. 2) Etudes were played with utmost evenness and dexterity. Even the lyrical Op. 10 No. 3 was exceptionally plainspoken with Mr. Kissin adopting a flowing and rigid tempo in the opening section and a whirlwind pace in the middle. The finger-blurring ďWinter-windĒ which brought the recital to a triumphant ending aroused the entire audiencesí emotions to the boiling point, with every attendee raved with roaring ovation and stamping applause.

Once again, Mr. Kissin generously delivered five typical encores, including some Chopin Waltzes and Prokofiev March. The spotlight on the stage had to be turned off to make audiences leave their seats. At the lobby of the Cultural Centre, Kissinís fans lined into snakes for his autograph. Though Mr. Kissin has the magic of dazzling every concertgoer with his impeccable virtuosity and infallible fingers, if he wants to reserve of a place in piano history, these are far insufficient. After 10 years, 20 years, or 50 years, this kind of recitals and recordings will surely be buried under loads of musically thoughtful and artistically memorable performances. Visceral excitement can never last for a lifetime. We are looking forward to a more musically questing and artistically consummate Kissin, rather than ten mechanical fingers which merely dazzle the music world with lightning.

Danny Kim-Nam Hui



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