Kissin at the Barbican

Evgeny Kissin, Barbican

Now forty-seven, Evgeny Kissin is no longer music’s most miraculous child: he’s become a trim and stately middle-aged gent, and his pianism has matured commensurately. It’s still technically flawless, but the sense one used to have that he was strenuously imposing his own personal stamp on everything he played has gone: each work is now allowed to speak for itself, and in its own particular way.

The Barbican was predictably packed to the rafters for his latest recital. He began with Beethoven’s ‘Hammerklavier’ Sonata, the opening Allegro unfussy and forceful, with each phrase fastidiously turned. Beethoven may have been pushing the piano to its limits in this keyboard symphony, but Kissin’s playing had a relaxed and easy confidence. The Scherzo was lightly done, with its Trio a warm rumble, but the massive Adagio emerged as a profound meditation. The pulse was calm and steady as in a dream, the small peaks of intensity which studded its length being given full value, while in no way interfering with the music’s grand sweep; each sally into a remote key was delivered with a touch of wide-eyed wonder, and by the end we might have been listening to Liszt. The concluding movement, with its brusque surprises, blizzards of trills, long-deferred resolutions, and endlessly upward-spiralling figurations, was magnificent.

The Rachmaninov Preludes which formed the second half may not have been music on such an exalted level, but Kissin displayed a marvellous control of colour and texture, and his encores brought the house down. First came Scriabin’s best-loved Etude delivered with rare delicacy, then a turbo-charged Toccata of Kissin’s own devising, then Rachmaninov’s C sharp minor Prelude, but here that normally-hackneyed piece had an unaccustomed freshness. Finally, to still the pandemonium in the hall, Kissin said goodbye with Tchaikovsky’s Meditation, ending with a long and tender trill.


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