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CD Review

Frédéric Chopin

Piano Music

  • 24 Préludes, Op. 28
  • Sonata #2, Op. 35
  • Polonaise, Op. 53
Yevgeny Kissin, piano
RCA 09026-63535-2
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Who are the top pianists today – the big names? Argerich, Pollini, and Kissin are the first three that come to mind. Some would add Ashkenazy and Brendel, and fans of de Larrocha, Ax and Perahia might demand inclusion in this esteemed company. It's easy to see that Yevgeny Kissin is the youngest by far among this elite group, and probably the most stylistically flexible, too – flexible in the sense that he sounds the least calculating, the least tied to a particular style or sound that makes him easily recognizable. At one time a few years ago, he was beginning to sound almost like Lazar Berman after his meteoric rise to fame in the 1970s, when he transformed from a fiery, inspired artist into a ponderous, mostly boring one.

Kissin's last three recordings for RCA – this one included – have all been superior efforts. In fact his last Chopin disc, that included the Four Ballades, was a classic. This one of the Préludes and Second Sonata is as individual and sensitive, as powerful and as thrilling, but also a little quirkier. The A Flat Major Prélude (#17) is effective in its agitated passion, but some may find its nervosity overdone; and the jarring chords of the C Minor (#20) may sound extreme, but you can't deny the powerful contrast it sets up for the last half. All in all, this is one of the most effective sets of the Préludes, despite the pianist's occasional over-the-top playing. As for the Sonata, this is a powerful, dramatic rendering, full of yearning and passion and virtuosic outbursts. The first two movements have more color and dynamism than offered in any recording I know of. Any. This is phenomenal playing. The funeral march is grippingly atmospheric, full of the most delicious gloom, and the eerie finale is chillingly brilliant. The A Flat Major Polonaise ("Heroic") is also splendidly played. Since his bland Prokofieff Third (DG), released in 1994, Kissin has sounded like a different pianist, possessed of transcendental ability like no one else. His Chopin must rank alongside that of Rubinstein, Argerich and Cliburn. Right now, it would be hard to imagine a more charismatic pianist. RCA's sound is excellent. Urgently recommended!

Copyright © 2000, Robert Cummings