This program was recorded in front of an appreciative audience on July 26, 2004 in the Salle Médran in Verbier, Switzerland – home of the so-called Verbier Festival. Many of Kissin's recordings (and most of the best ones) were recorded "live," and so I was expecting the best when this CD arrived in the mail.
Kissin was born in October 1971, so he was (gasp) 32 at the time of this recital. When he was a precocious teenager, music critics the world over screamed about his talent and genius. Now that he is an adult, I fear that some of his ardent supporters from the 1980s and 90s have become a little bored with him. When this happens, sometimes that ennui gets projected onto the performer: "So-and-so sounds bored with the music." This is unfair. The appreciation of music and music-making cannot be turned into a never-ending quest for new sensations, once the old sensations have lost their novelty. Hearing this CD, I hear a pianist who is emotionally and intellectually engaged, and who is looking to bring something new and personal to the music without distorting it. True, we probably didn't need to hear Kissin play the "Heroic" Polonaise one more time. I won't even claim to like every performance on this CD. But gee whiz, folks: Kissin is one of the greatest pianists at work today, and I've yet to hear a CD of his that wasn't interesting and well worth adding to one's collection.
Kissin's polonaises climb the mountains of tragic grandeur. Certainly these works can played as pinnacles of musical nationalism, but I don't think that it is simply Chopin the Pole to whom Kissin is responding in these performances. Kissin casts his nets wider, and that is what gives his performances of these polonaises such a human quality, even though the technique he displays is superhuman. Some quibbles: his staccato treatment of the middle section of the E Flat minor Polonaise sounds very mannered, and almost fey. Also, I think he tends to treat the aforementioned "Heroic" Polonaise more as an encore than as a conclusion to the three polonaises that preceded it. As for the impromptus, Kissin plays them with a great deal of freedom. Tempos and phrasing are very pliable. Whether this makes the music sound more or less improvised is open to debate. Again, I thought that there were moments in these performances in which Kissin was being different just for the sake of being different. At no point, however, did I find these performances dull or self-indulgent.
Once you turn the volume up to recital levels, the engineering on this CD is very pleasant and lifelike. Surprisingly, Stephen Wigler's booklet notes discuss Chopin and the repertoire, but say not a word about Kissin!
This is a fine addition to Kissin's not overly large Chopin discography.
Copyright © 2007, Raymond Tuttle