Kissin still remarkable


April 08, 2005|By Tim Smith | Tim Smith,SUN MUSIC CRITIC

At 33, Russian-born pianist Evgeny Kissin remains exactly what he was at 10 - a formidable force of nature and art.

He gave a compelling demonstration of that lasting power Wednesday night in a sold-out recital for the Washington Performing Arts Society at the Music Center at Strathmore. He'll repeat the program here next week in a Baltimore Symphony Orchestra presentation.

Kissin's combination of intellect and muscle couldn't have been more apparent than it was in his performance of Stravinsky's Petrouchka Suite. To say that Kissin played the, um, heck out of it would be an understatement.

The sheer accuracy of the articulation, even at bullet-speed, was downright scary (in olden days people might have called it demonic). The array of colors he produced, not to mention his brilliant rhythmic security, proved equally startling as Kissin extracted every ounce of atmosphere and drama to be found in the spicy score.

To the ruminative, richly lyrical Sonata Reminiscenza by Nikolai Medtner, the pianist brought not only remarkable warmth, but a strong sense of the work's architectural integrity. The closing measures, though, would not have suffered unduly from a little more sentiment in the phrasing; Kissin's rather cool approach didn't entirely satisfy after all the emotional churning earlier.

Likewise, in the recital's all-Chopin first half, the pianist missed some opportunities to put a warmer spin on the music. It's possible to find a smile behind the notes of the A-flat major Impromptu, for example, but Kissin kept things rather sober.

That said, there was still much to savor during this portion of the evening, especially a darkly etched account of the C minor Polonaise, Op. 40, No. 2, and a thunderously exuberant sweep through the familiar A-flat major Polonaise, Op. 53.

This was Strathmore's first piano recital, an occasion made slightly less celebratory for the new hall by the fact that Kissin couldn't find a piano there that pleased him; he had his own shipped from New York.

The previously admirable acoustics proved disappointing. Heard from the main floor, the piano sound lacked impact and, to some extent, clarity. Strange.

Evgeny Kissin will give a recital at 7:30 p.m. Thursday at Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, 1212 Cathedral St. Tickets are $27 to $75. Call 410-783-8000.

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