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Evgeny Kissin Underwhelms at Carnegie Hall

by Melanie Wong

Kissin

Widely considered one of the best pianists of our generation, Evgeny Kissin is known for his lyrical and poetic musicality. Earlier this month, Kissin presented a chronological concert of Haydn, Schubert, and Liszt on the main stage of Carnegie Hall, and although he is always a beautiful player, he both looked and sounded a bit burnt out this time around.

Kissin opened with Haydn’s Piano Sonata in E-flat Major, and unfortunately the gorgeous Steinway sound could not make up for the fact that he missed much of the nuance and sensitivity of Haydn’s composition—the work felt more like a throwaway bit of background music than a substantial program piece. This lackluster feeling continued through Beethoven's Piano Sonata No. 32 in C minor. Although the opening was strong and promised better energy, the style felt off and, like the Haydn, lacked nuance. In general, the work needed more delicacy in many sections, and the sound, while beautiful, often needed to float rather than pound.

Moving on to the set of four Schubert Impromptus, the pianist had many more moments of greatness: an alluringly simple melody in the Impromptu in B-flat Major, No. 3 displayed the delicate and floating sound he previously lacked, as well as the romantic and fluttering arpeggio melody of the Impromptu in A-flat Major, No. 4. But each time Kissin began to approach awesomeness, his energy fell off and his playing became listless and muddy.

Kissin managed to find a lost morsel of energy for the finale, Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 12, and it became possible to glimpse the true extent of his artistry. Dancing, light, and dramatic, Kissin displayed virtuosity, an engrossing sound, and a fitting style. The audience gave a lengthy standing ovation, which led the seemingly reluctant pianist to perform three encores, all of which were much more energetic and appropriately expressive than the actual program.

Kissin received his accolades with a humble and gracious attitude, despite his obvious exhaustion. Most of the audience seemed fully satisfied and regarded the pianist with great enthusiasm, showing that there’s something to be said for having great expectations and a big name. 

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