The Salzburg Recital
Berg: Piano Sonata, Op. 1; Chopin: Impromptus; Scherzo Nos 1 & 2 etc; Gershwin: Preludes; Khrennikov: Five Pieces for Piano, Op. 2 etc; plus works by Debussy, Kissin and Mendelssohn
Evgeny Kissin (piano)
DG 486 2990 94:47 mins (2 discs)
Evgeny Kissin boldly steps out of his comfort zone in the first half of his Salzburg Festival recital by featuring an unexpected sequence of early-20th-century works. Opening his programme with Alban Berg’s emotionally intense Piano Sonata, Kissin delivers a powerfully controlled interpretation that places the greatest emphasis on structural cohesion and textural clarity, but at the same time tends to minimise the dramatic contrasts in mood and tempo indicated in the score. He follows this with strongly characterised performances of some surprisingly modernist early piano pieces by the Russian Tikhon Khrennikov. Khrennikov’s obvious indebtedness to Prokofiev and Shostakovich in these works is deeply ironic considering his 1948 speech as General Secretary of the Union of Soviet Composers, when he publicly denounced both men. Then comes Gershwin’s exhilarating Three Preludes, the first and third of which are dispatched with phenomenal technical control if insufficient sense of swing and joie de vivre.
With its generous selection of works by Chopin, the second half of Kissin’s recital finds the pianist on much more familiar ground. The performances of the B major Nocturne and the Three Improvisations are spellbinding, as is the prodigious dexterity of fingerwork in the two Scherzos (the latter presented as an unusually generous encore) and the marshalling of consecutive octaves in the A flat major Polonaise. My only caveat here is a tendency for some of the more full-blooded textures to sound a bit aggressive, a fault perhaps of DG’s rather bright recording. On the other hand, audience noise is kept to a minimum until the wildly enthusiastic bursts of applause that follow Kissin’s many encores.