Italy Schubert and Scriabin Evgeny Kissin (piano) Schubert, Sonata in D op 53 D850; Scriabin, Sonata-fantasia no 2 in G sharp minor op 19 and Seven Studies from the Twelve Studies, op 8. Accademia Nazionale di Santa Cecilia, Sala Santa Cecilia, Parco della Musica, Rome. 05.12.2013 (JB)
Musical energy is a fascinating subject –strikingly different in every composer. Mozart’s has an unstoppable feel; to stop it would be to strangulate it. Beethoven’s is fuelled by the soul’s dark nights, moving deeper, even as it moves onwards. Schubert’s has that feel of inevitability about it too but it carries with it a questioning of its own progress, giving it the hue of pathos. Even Schubert’s sunniest moments are shot through with that healthy agnosticism which while knowing only too well where it wants to go still manages to question its own path.
Take the opening of great D major sonata op53 D850. In no other Schubert work do we feel such an explosion of energy. Allegro vivace says Schubert as though to emphasise the vitality he requires. Evgeny Kissin takes this as an invitation to open up the biggest valve of Schubert’s power. But power is not energy. Indeed it can impede energy. This is the first time I have heard Kissin produce an ugly sound from his instrument. It was as aggressive and forced as a cannon shot. The tuner required the entire interval to get the piano back in tune. A big sound which is also a beautiful sound is the hardest thing to produce on the piano. And I have heard Kissin produce it many times. But on this occasion he got trapped in the power valve when his very considerable musical intelligence ought to have been focusing on the energy Even the greatest can be led astray.
The echoing pianissimi ripples which provide a contrast to the opening thunder were played with clarity and charm, though they too were somewhat short on energy: once you have sacrificed energy to power it is difficult to retrieve it. Still, the sun came out in the second movement –con moto. It is all too easy for the Allegro vivace of the scherzo to get trapped in its own whirlwind. That is what happened here. Too much insistence dear Evgene. What is needed is a good dose of cheeky charm to lighten it. And on other occasions I have heard lots of that from this pianist’s fingers.
He saved the cheeky charm up for the last movement Rondo –Allegro moderato. But why? Finally, he was having fun. And so were we. Schumann is on record appreciating the clowning of the finale and Kissin delivered superbly here. Stylistically he hit the bull’s eye. And when the style is right it’s an indicator that the energy is right too.
Do you need early Scriabin when you could have Chopin? –of which the Russian is only pale imitation of the Pole. Yet pianists are dedicated to early Scriabin. (And for my money, better the early Scriabin than the later, which is based on an ingenious but eventually unworkable musical philosophy). Admittedly there is some genuine pianism in Scriabin’s writing. And Evgene Kissin is excellent in illuminating the composer’s relationship to the actual instrument –much more developed than the more primitive instrument of Chopin. But whereas Chopin had foresight of what would come, Scriabin operates in these early works only with hindsight.
Efficiency and charm marked the Kissin performance of the second sonata op19 in both the andante and presto. The seven studies chosen from op8 brought out a pleasant enough spectre of pianist colours. The first, no.2 A capriccio con forza had more force than caprice; no.4 –Piacevole was enchanting; no.5 in E –Brioso. was a good pub piece. That is a compliment from me: the world is short of good pub pianists and composers who deliver on sheer entertainment value. No. 12 –Patetico was just that, exploring the pathos of cabaret, wallowing, heart on sleeve, delivered beautifully with a straight face by Kissin.
More Scriabin in the encores, leading up to the crowning glory of the Chopin Polonaise op 53 in A flat. Finally, the Real Thing! And the audience’s thunderous applause left the pianist in no doubt about their thanks for that.