Kissin's playing of Chopin among finest

March 20, 1994|By Stephen Wigler | Stephen Wigler,Sun Music Critic

Frederic Chopin, Fantasy in F minor, Polonaise in F-sharp minor, Nocturnes in C-sharp minor and D-flat, Waltzes in A minor and A-flat (opus 34), Waltz in A-flat (opus 42) and Scherzo in B-flat minor, performed by pianist Evgeny Kissin (RCA Victor 09026-60445-2).

This disc, recorded live at Carnegie Hall, documents all of the Chopin program -- minus the B Minor Sonata -- that Kissin performed all over the country last year. Having heard the pianist perform these pieces at the Kennedy Center, and pronounced them among the finest performances of Chopin's music I had ever heard, I see no reason to alter that opinion.

Nurtured in the traditions of great Chopin playing, Russian pianists rarely play this composer badly. Kissin has all the attributes we associate with Russian performances of Chopin: a colorful sound, emotional richness, a sense of drama and a keen instinct for the composer's rhythmic pulse, particularly in pieces such as the polonaises and mazurkas that reflect Chopin's inheritance from Slavic folk music.

But while this is mainstream playing, Kissin brings an element of individuality and sheer pianistic genius to this music. He plays the outer sections of the F-sharp Minor Polonaise in a grand manner that, for all his daring and and uninhibited use of tonal resources, never becomes overly aggressive. And the then-21-year-old Russian is able to incorporate into the polonaise's huge scheme the exquisite lyricism of the mazurka that lies at its center.

All the performances -- with one minor cavil -- are tremendous. A particular favorite was the A Minor Waltz, which Kissin plays with a dazzling fluency and a rich sense of nostalgia and pathos that finally bursts all bounds. The cavil concerns the opening of the great F Minor Fantasy, in which the pianist takes a slow tempo that affects a mannered air of profundity. Nice to know that Kissin is sometimes only human, too.

*

Franz Schubert, Sonatas in C major (D. 840), A minor (D. 845) and F-sharp minor (D. 571), performed by pianist Andras Schiff (London 440 305-2); Schubert, Sonatas in E minor (D. 566), A minor (D. 784), and D major (D. 850), performed by Schiff (London 440 306-2).

These two discs are the first volumes in what eventually will be seven CDs comprising all of Schubert's completed sonatas, unfinished sonatas with substantial torsos (such as D. 840) and some of the more interesting fragments (such as D. 571). No Schubertian will want to be without these discs: Schiff is a genuinely great pianist.

The 40-year-old Hungarian uses a Bosendorfer, rather than a New York or Hamburg Steinway, and he uses all that Viennese instrument's fabled capacity for soft playing to explore the shaded dynamics favored by the composer. There are other, more dramatic, ways to play this music -- one thinks particularly of Sviatoslav Richter's monumentality or of Richard Goode's mercurial flights of fancy in the three late pieces in C major, A minor and D major. But Schiff's way -- whether with D. 850's entrancing finale, filled with echoes of popular song and dance, or with the atmosphere of suspense in the first movement of D. 784 -- is that of an irresistible master.

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