Most helpful critical review
21 of 26 people found the following review helpful
It's the expressivity, stupid
on September 19, 2002
What's happened to Kissin's playing lately has made me sad. Oh sure, he's still famous and packs them in, but his playing has become increasingly harsh, ugly and unfeeling. There isn't an ounce of poetry in these Preludes. Banging, yes, and lots of volume, but all the blood, sweat and tears don't produce much *music.* Cortot expended half the energy and got five times the results.
For example, the First Prelude has clumsy and heavy phrasing. It sounded to me like a first year piano student learning how to "feel" the music for the first time, only of course Kissin has more technique than any first year student. The Second prelude bears far too much weight and pathos. Kissin gives it the gravity of the finale of the Tchaikovsky Pathetique Symphony--and it can't really withstand it and turns out distended. (And this from someone who *likes* a player such as Ugorski!) The Third is all speed and no charm, and someone has to teach Kissin what leggieramente means. The Fourth is hampered--as are many including the "Raindrop"--by monotonous rhythmic regularity. Some pianists can really shade and color works like these. Not here. Yet I enjoyed some of Kissin's earlier discs (the Carenegie Hall recitals) so much, compared with this.
The Sonata is much the same, and I won't go into details for danger of repeating myself. Except to say the Funeral March really drives my point home: Kissin bangs hard. He gives you deep, black bass notes. But Rubinstein, with less effort, is more frightening, more about *death.*
The biggest disaster is the unfelt, undramatic encore piece, the famous Polonaise, Op. 53. No charm, no excitement, nothing but lots of loud, steely notes and excessive technique. Yo, Gene, you're not playing the Hammerklavier Sonata here. Virtuosity takes a back seat to expression. And in Kissin's hands, all these pieces turn out to be about virtuosity. No argument that he has it, that he can dazzle, but it's not enough, and the disc comes off as shallow.
For better Preludes, try Arrau (both Philips and Decca, if you can find that latter), Moravec, Cortot (1926), Sofronitsky, Pogorelic, heck, even Kapell (for the Sonata, one of his last performances, I believe).