Evgeny Kissin, a lion at the piano

By Sebastian Spreng, Visual Artist and Classical Music Writer

If it’s not easy to objectively review the recital that took place on Sunday April 15 at the New World Center (NWS). A review might be virtually pointless. That’s often the case when Evgeny Kissin plays onstage alone with a piano, his vital link to the rest of us mortals.

Evgeny Kissin, photo by FBroede

When Kissin works onstage, he seems to work with the audience’s energy. His concentration is contagious. There’s the connection –  pure, controlled emotion through music. As Kissin grows and leaves behind the traces of the child prodigy he once was, the artist also matures. And fortunately, the essence of the child remains intact within that growing maturity.

Kissin possesses the rare ability to pluck a deep inner chord, to set off the most genuine emotion. Emotion that dazzles with a spark and ignites a sacred fire beyond his purely technical or interpretative views (with which some might disagree). In the end, what counts is his talent, honesty, unwavering commitment and – ultimately – his generosity and kindness as an artist. On Sunday, everyone felt as if Kissin was playing for them individually, and the full house made for an intimate, perfect venue. It was a magical afternoon that begged to be etched in memory.

Kissin returned, played and conquered, with a grand program following Judy Drucker’s cancellation last year (he not only came back for her, he also graciously waived his fee to help her new undertaking).  His rendition of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata was highly personal, elegant, restrained and grandiose. He conquered many fans and some critics and at all times inspired respect. Barber’s fiendishly difficult Sonata Op. 26 – first performed by Horowitz in Havana, 1949 – was a masterful revelation, proving an absolutely ideal work for his temperament and sensibility.

The second half of the program was devoted to Kissin’s beloved Chopin. After an exquisite Nocturne in A-Flat Major (Op. 32, 2), his monumental Third Sonata displayed the right amount of passion and lyricism. Here, melancholy worked as an accurate, subtle dart and confirmed him as a colossal architect of moods and ideas, one that can also afford to sing a trill “á la Schubert” as if he were the very same Shepherd on the Rock.

The encores (and there would have been more if the audience had kept going) were as generous as they were splendid: Chopin’s Mazurka in A Minor and two marches delightfully played by this “Soldier of Music”: Beethoven’s Op. 76 and Prokofiev’s from The Love for Three Oranges.

Kissin is a lion at the piano. Beyond his astonishing virtuosity and depth, what stays with you is the memory of having experienced an essential pianist. What lingers is his warm, affable, engaged and unfathomable image, bearing an indefinite hint of sadness that might reflect a solitude that observes us while happily contemplates its realms. What lingers is what Emily Dickinson described as the sense of having breathed “a superior air.” Exhausted, drained, filled and satiated, the critic’s only duty is to bear witness of the artistic event. Criticism, as often happens in these instances, is utterly irrelevant.