I saw Evgeny Kissin perform on November 3rd, 2015 at Carnegie Hall, with my daughter Annie. We had fabulous seats over stage right. Could not see the keyboard, but that didn’t matter. I was not there to learn anything, I was there to enjoy and to remind myself just how far I still have to go as a pianist.
A few weeks before this event, I had attended a Lang Lang recital at Carnegie. I was surprised that my pianist friends were not so thrilled about Lang Lang. The message I got was yeah, sure, Lang Lang is good but he’s not Kissin. Since I thought Lang Lang was awesome, my expectations on this night were extremely high.
The Stern Auditorium was packed. There were even seats on stage for about 100 people. Kissin did not keep us waiting like Lang Lang, and his shoes did not call out for attention. This was a performer who had no need to sell himself. He bowed both to the audience in the main hall, and to the lucky souls behind the piano who had wangled a seat on stage. Somehow, I felt that I was in the presence of greatness.
Warm-up candy: Mozart
The recital opened with Mozart’s Sonata in C Major. This was pleasant and precisely articulated, but not the kind of music I would go out of my way to listen to. For Mr. Kissin, it was good warm-up candy before going for the big stuff.
Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata
Beethoven’s Appassionata Sonata came next. In comparison with Mozart’s little kitty-cat, Beethoven was a tiger that allowed Kissin’s mastery to shine. With his shaggy hair, you could have imagined that he was Beethoven himself. I can’t describe for you the power that Kissin has, and what it was like to listen to him play this monster of a sonata, but it left me stunned. I don’t know who I admire more, good old Ludwig or this fabulous Russian pianist.
Kissin’s Brahms Intermezzo #1 – MEH!
After the intermission, Kissin played 3 Brahms Intermezzos. I am particularly fond of #1, but I was disturbed at what felt like excessive rubato in his rendition. I suppose that the greatest pianist in the world is entitled to play it his own way, but my “gold standard” is the one at this link: J. Brahms, Intermezzo op. 117. no. 1, Virna Kljakovic.
The rest of the evening was mostly Spanish (Albeniz, Larregla) music, which at any other event would have been captivating, but for me the concert really ended after Beethoven’s Appassionata, since I felt let down by the Brahms. Not even the strong delivery of Larregla’s Viva Navarra could offset the feeling that Mr. Kissin, world’s greatest pianist, didn’t “get” the Brahm’s Intermezzo. I imagine that he would disagree, but unfortunately I didn’t get to chat with him afterwards.
The bow says everything
When Mr. Kissin took his bows on this November night at Carnegie, he came forward and stood, head tilted back for a few seconds, radiant and gracious in our applause, before bowing. It was as if he were transformed by music, and we with him.