In 2011 the Berliner Philharmoniker and their musical director Sir Simon Rattle welcomed in the New Year with a gala concert programmed with ‘Dances & Dreams’. Spinetingling and inspiring performances of music by Dvořák, Ravel, Richard Strauss, Stravinsky and Brahms are complemented by the extraordinary talent of the multi-awarded Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin. Kissin’s musicality, the depth and poetic quality of his interpretations, and his extraordinary virtuosity have placed him at the forefront of today’s pianists, and his passionate performance of the renowned Piano Concerto in A minor by Edvard Grieg is mesmerizing.
This is the second of Brilliant's box sets devoted to Russian recordings from Evgeny Kissin. Labeled as early, these live concert performances from 1984 to 1990 carry us from the day after Kissin turned 13 (Mozart Cto. #12 K. 414) to age 18 (Mozart Cto. #20, K. 466), with most readings clustering in the range of 1985-89. Russians were well aware of the marvel in their midst; the pianist's American breakthrough occurred in 1990 when he debuted at Carnegie Hall's centennial season. No one since Richter, debuting almost thirty years before, had made such a heady entry, and Richter was past fifty when he came here (briefly, since he loathed American capitalism and the pace of life in our big cities).
DG offers a terrific bargain here that anyone who follows this celebrated pianist will want to hear.
The centerpiece of this CD is Brahms' Sonata, Opus 5, which he composed when he was 20 years old. At 38 minutes, it is a grand, expansive, five-movement work, practically symphonic in its complexity and format. Kissin's virtuosity is astounding–he can thunder or whisper–and his sense of line, melody, and mood are impeccable. His joy at playing the piano and just plain music-making is something to behold. Two pieces from Op. 76 (composed 22 years after the sonata) express a folksy flavor and sentimental yearning, respectively, and the five brief Hungarian Dances (transcribed for piano by the composer from his orchestral works) are perfect encores–energetic and easy to grasp. This is a glorious disc, a must for lovers of great pianism, and another feather in Kissin's already impressive cap.
Jennifer Pike, who won the BBC Young Musician of the Year competition at the tender age of 12, appears to have survived the perils of prodigyhood and entered her early twenties with musical intelligence intact. Here she offers a terrific program of music from the middle of the 19th century; all of it is abstract, but it brings vividly to mind the crucial trio of creative figures who met in the early 1850s: the ailing Robert Schumann, his musically frustrated wife Clara, and the young Johannes Brahms, mooning over the latter.
This selection received a Grammy nomination for "Best Classical Album" and "Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (without Orchestra)." The comparative simplicity of Chopin's Op. 28 Preludes (when placed against his Etudes, for example) and their status as "miniatures" often hide the fact that they are, in fact, extremely demanding pieces, especially in interpretation. These works, probably written in homage to Johann Sebastian Bach's 'Well-Tempered Clavier,' have been the eminent domain of such great pianists as Artur Rubinstein, Vladimir Horowitz and Claudio Arrau. The Preludes now belong to young Evgeny Kissin.
The young Kissin was able to work wonders in Prokofiev–above all the Sixth Sonata (Kissin in Tokyo - Yevgeny Kissin). Regrettably, the mature Kissin recently delivered highly disappointing live performances of the Second and Third Concertos (Prokofiev: Piano Concertos Nos. 2 & 3), indeed, regardless of the predictable rave in the British press. This 1994 recording of the First and Third Concertos is unquestionably very good, especially the youthful First, although competition is very strong–from Graffman/Szell (Prokofiev: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 3) and Argerich/Dutoit (Prokofiev: Piano Concertos Nos. 1 & 3 / Bartok: Piano Concerto No. 3) in this coupling, and from the complete sets by Berman/Gutierrez/Järvi, Toradze/Gergiev and Krainev/Kitaenko.
Brahms’s two sonatas for clarinet and piano, Op 120, composed in 1894, were followed only by the four Serious Songs and a set of organ chorale preludes (some of which may have been written at earlier times). His farewell to chamber music was also his farewell gift to the clarinet. The two works recorded here were preceded by the Clarinet Trio in A minor (Op 114) and the great Clarinet Quintet in B minor (Op 115), and all four masterpieces were inspired by the playing of Richard Mühlfeld, principal clarinettist of the Meiningen Orchestra.