INKPOT#43 CLASSICAL MUSIC REVIEWS: KISSIN/LEGENDARY 1984 MOSCOW CONCERT (CHOPIN PIANO CONCERTOS)

KISSIN – The Legendary 1984 Moscow Concert
Fryderyk (Frédéric) CHOPIN (1810-1849) Piano Concerto No.1 in E minor, Op. 11
Piano Concerto No.2 in F minor, Op. 21
Mazurka No.40, op.63, no.2
Mazurka No.49, op.68, no.4
Waltz No 14, op posth.
EVGENY KISSIN piano
Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra
conducted by Dimitri Kitaenko

RCA Victor Red Seal (BMG Classics) 09026-68378-2
[71’10”] full-price

by Johann D’Souza

This concert has been dubbed as a legendary concert. But why legendary? Well it does not seem so obvious until one finds that it is performed by a 12 year-old boy. What prompted me to buy this disc was the fact that I was talking to a friend who had said that he had seen Kissin in London a while back and in his words he said that Kissin is “unbelievably exciting, breathtaking, truly a genius.”The CD’s front sleeve displays a boy totally in control of what he is doing. His eyes peering in the distance, his hands stretched out decked on the keyboard giving you that feeling of a person waiting to show the world what he is made of – and he does not take long to prove it to you! From the first long tutti to the introduction of the E minor concerto you’re straight away thrust into a sense of total bewilderment. I remember a couple of years ago when the SSO had invited 3 Russian children to perform under the baton of Choo Hoey. Barely 14, they played Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnol, Wienawski’s Second Violin Concerto and Rachmaninoff’s Piano Concerto No.2. I was stunned by their skill but I came out of the concert hall a bit dismayed. I was disappointed because there was a cold feeling in their playing, like a bunch of robots fresh off the conveyor belt. Technically they were so perfect it was mind boggling. From their pizzicati to their double stops, everything was perfect. The pianist too was a technical wizard from the moment she greeted her eager audience (with a quick bow and off to the piano she went). However from the initial seven or nine chords you just felt that it was a machine playing.
Evgeny Kissin Kissin (left) is different. He has a manner which combines extreme forces, sculpturing tone in a masculine manner yet with the lightness and elasticity of playing in the second movement with an intensity few can achieve at this age. Chopin’s First Concerto is by far one of the hardest concertos in the piano repertoire, and although my all time favorites in terms of the second movement of this E minor concerto are the ones played by Fou Tsong and Martha Argerich, Kissin comes after them.

I remember reading an article a long time ago stating that Lord Yehudi Menuhin played his finest Beethoven Concerto at the age of 12 and this performance was never repeated in a similar manner. However, with Kissin, he seems to thrive in a live performance. You can hear the thunderous applause immediately after the last chord and this is the same with his Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto No.3 (RCA-09026-69158), when the audience jumps with shouts of “Bravo!”. I am quite convinced that even ifhe plays a Chopin nocturne marked “Lento”, he is going to get a similar response. He just has this ability to intensify the moment and draw its energy from the crowd.

Kissin was born in Moscow in 1971. He began lessons at the age of 2 and at 6 entered the Moscow Gnessian School of Music for Gifted Children. He made his performance debut at the age of 10 and gave his first recital the following year. This recording was made in 1984 when he shot to fame as a “legend”. I am quite sure that word must have reached the West in a similar manner – like how Richter came to prominence or when Van Cliburn came back after winning the First Tchaikovsky competition. The world saw a glimpse of Kissin’s genius when he performed a Liszt Hungarian Rhapsody at such a speed few could and can emulate at the 1992 Academy Awards. Now 26, Kissin has three recordings of Chopin music, the other two in an all Chopin programme at Carnegie Hall (RCA 09026-60445 and 09026-62542).

Chopin I must admit that I’m a sucker for slow movements. For both the E minor and F minor concertos, Kissin’s playing is almost a minute faster than Martha Argerich and Adam Harasiewicz (Laserlight 14-061). Argerich’s E minor concerto with Witold Rowicki is exciting and her recording with Claudio Abbado on Deutche Grammophon (Originals 449 719) is also another legendary performance. The second movement is about spring and moonlight as described by Chopin in a letter to his friend Titus. I found it hard for Kissin to bring these elements out as compared to the spontaneity of Argerich under Abbado. However, once we get to the third movement, Kissin’s superfluous technique, and his iron fortissimos all come out clear and with great intensity of inner feeling. I suppose that is one of the reasons he is able to conclude both concertos on such a high note.

For those who love Chopin, another highly recommended recording of the concerti are those of Krystian Zimmerman (DG 415 970) – his second movement of the E minor is close to 10 minutes long. It is drawn out to a satisfying point which I find very touching. His runs are superfluous and sparklingly clear. In recent times this has also been compared to Maria Jao Pires’s recording, also on DG (437 817).

Well, although there are so many Chopin Concerti discs out there, I recommend this one highly if you love a sense of passion and excitement in these works. I hate to end reviews like this because I’m constantly exploring new pianists who see things differently from the grand masters. I suppose music does transcend time, going by the evidence provided with each new interpretation, each new pianist.

This disc is available at, or can be ordered from Tower (Pacific Plaza), Sing Music (Raffles City), HMV (The Heeren) or Borders (Wheelock Place) .
Johann D’Souza‘s pursuit in life is to dance the tribal dances with the Maasai’s in Nairobi before living with the Yogi’s in the Himalayas.

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