With our ultra exposure to You Tube, MP4s, CDs, etc. we often forget what it’s like to experience a LIVE performer inhabiting an acoustical paradise such as Davies Hall, San Francisco.
In a give and take between pianist and audience, a swell of dynamics and limpidly melting cadences elicit an intimate exchange of emotions that’s permanently embedded, and thankfully OFF line. (Though ring tone reminders of cell phones will inevitably invade sanctified spaces).
Last night, in a rush of fervent, passionate appreciation, a throng of spellbound listeners shouted from the rafters, wanting more, even after Evgeny Kissin had nearly drained his energies in a challenging display of raw, physical virtuosity. They would not accept a draw down from frenzy to contemplation in what appeared to be the only encore: Schumann’s “Traumerei.” Without doubt, Kissin had resurrected the spirit of Vladimir Horowitz in this choice, by its blanketed, dream-like tranquillity that followed a gush of impassioned pyrotechnics.
For many, the meditative Romantic tableau from Kinderszenen would have been the perfect play-out absent a stream of rolling credits, but the roaring crowd, drugged with adrenaline, refused to go gently into the night.
In the glare of thunderous applause, the pianist capitulated to audience demand, pumping out the Chopin Polonaise, Op. 53 with noble abandon.
Naturally, LIVE playing draws no comparison by its immediate and dramatic effect, though more than a sprinkling of iPhones had blinking red lights in RECORD mode, creating a side show of its own.
I joined the fevered rush, as I edged toward the stage, snapping photos of the performer bowing between encores. My tenacious efforts were compromised by an ancient model cell phone, and a crowd crushing in.
As the callbacks continued, Kissin offered up one of his own compositions in contemporary jazz framing, before he capped the evening with the Scriabin Etude, Op. 2, No. 1 that rekindled an impassioned, though tempered calmness. (Was Evgeny making a statement through “the composer’s very personal and abstract mysticism based on the role of the artist in relation to perception and life affirmation?”)
In a hypnotic trance, I dared to snatch this tender morsel for download. (So much for preserving the “memory” of a LIVE performance in the depths of my imagination as I had done decades before at Horowitz, Richter, and Gilels Carnegie Hall recitals.) Impulsively, I joined a cadre of rogue recordists.
In summary, it would be unfair to characterize Evgeny Kissin as just a towering powerhouse of virtuosity. He is a poet of the piano, with more than a reserve of technical prowess. His playing is multi-tiered, encompassing many levels of musical understanding. In the Schumann F minor sonata he produced waves of phrases, never flat-lined, drawing out inner voices and threading them with thematic unity.
The opening Chopin Nocturnes were permeated by his signature “singing tone” that never produced punchy, offensively loud sonorities throughout middle section outbursts of emotion. He used the full weight of his arms channeled from his upper body, with pliant wrists to create an array of colors and nuances.
The Rachmaninoff Preludes were exquisitely rendered showcasing the totality of the pianist’s artistry generating reams of mood shifts and shaded filigrees. Dynamics were versatile and innately musical, with rippling give-and-take phrases imbued with pleasure-inducing moments of the unexpected.
Above all, the pianist’s amazing control, so centered and riveted, was the sterling hallmark of his “memorable” performance.