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Continuing with its series of major concerto recordings with Evgeny Kissin, EMI Classics will release the pianist’s first ever complete cycle of Beethoven Piano Concertos in September this year. Kissin is partnered in these recordings by one of the master Beethovenians of our time, Sir Colin Davis, leading the London Symphony Orchestra.
Recording the Beethoven Piano Concerto cycle is a momentous experience for any pianist. For generations the concertos have been the touchstone of an artist’s maturity for their stylistic bridge from the classicism of Haydn and Mozart to the first flowering of Romanticism. Although Evgeny Kissin has performed these works numerous times over the years - and even recorded some of them previously - he waited until now to find the best possible musical environment in which to make this very personal statement.
Recording Producer Jay Saks, who has worked closely with Kissin since his 1990 Carnegie Hall’s debut, said of the project: “Recording the five Beethovens with Genya [Kissin] and Sir Colin was just wonderful. [It was] such beautiful playing, so musical and entirely in the character of Beethoven. It’s not strange, not quirky, it’s just astonishingly beautiful, technically proficient, musically extremely thoughtful - and profound. As a producer, I have to remember that I am present at recording sessions […] for professional reasons. It is so easy to just sit and listen and get swept away with what he’s doing. These Beethovens are remarkable.”
(on Kissin’s 2008 performance of Piano Concerto No. 3 at the Barbican, UK)
“Kissin impressed throughout with his marvellous rich, almost chocolate-like tone. His articulation too was impeccable... The orchestra and Sir Colin were on truly wondrous form, and Kissin's pianism proved ... a marvel in its dynamism and delicacy.”
7th September 2008
“The technically brilliant Russian is often criticised for his dourly clinical playing, but his Barbican Beethoven series…displayed a playful, warmer performer, more ready to unbutton, as in the finale of the First, or in the friskiness of the Fifth”
“…Kissin's pianism is phenomenal. Every minute inflection, accent or graduation of colour sounds as though it's exactly as he wants it.”
“…Evgeny Kissin is a Beethoven player of rare pedigree and distinction… the technique awesome, not least his ability to refine tone and taper dynamics in those high-lying passages where Beethoven's expressive powers are at their most rarefied.”
“It has been clear for some time that Evgeny Kissin is a Beethoven player of rare pedigree and distinction, the finest Russian-born Beethovenian since Emil Gilels. Twelve years ago he recorded the Second and Fifth concertos in performances of flair and élan with the Philharmonia under James Levine (Sony Classical – reveiewed below). His own playing was vital and fluent, the technique awesome, not least his ability to refine tone and taper dynamics in those high-lying passages where Beethoven's expressive powers are at their most rarefied. The new recordings were made in the autumn of 2007 at Abbey Road and it must be said that the piano sound is a thing of quite exceptional beauty, well forward though not unpleasingly so. Doubts linger about the handling of the difficult- to-judge orchestral ritornelli that launch the three earliest concertos. The playing has a slightly sullen feel to it, set back on its heels rhythmically, that Kissin's arrival decisively transforms. Was there at the outset a gap in expectation between the orchestra and its soloist? If so, it quickly dissolves as the real musicmaking gets under way. Nowadays Sir Colin is more in love with the music's lyric aspect, audibly so at times. The unfurling of the strings' rapt eight-bar rejoinder to the piano's opening statement in the Fourth Concerto can rarely have been more memorably realised. After such an opening, Kissin has every right to spend the next 20 minutes contemplating the heavens in his own uniquely affecting way, ably abetted by his attentive accompanists. Despite Davis's slowish tempo, Kissin announces himself in the Second Concerto with playing of great brilliance and vernal loveliness. The entire performance is a success, not least the finale where Kissin throws down the gauntlet to the orchestra with a driving molto allegro that sets up to perfection a typically Beethovenian jest in which high seriousness is made to crook its knee to the life-affirming power of play. Kissin also sets a cracking pace in the Rondo of the rather grander First Concerto, though is this a true allegro scherzando? Beethoven loved to shock but after a slowish albeit beautifully articulated opening movement (where Kissin aptly and intriguingly uses Beethoven's shorter second cadenza) and a sublime account of the Largo, this rabid assault on the finale rather unbalances the whole. There is no such lack of balance in the Third Concerto on which many a pianist-conductor combination has come to grief. Once past that rather dourly played ritornello, Kissin and Davis realise the concerto as well as some and better than many. We know from their earlier recordings how fine both soloist and conductor are in the Emperor Concerto and this new version does not disappoint. Kissin's realisation of the big opening cadenza is broadly phrased in the Russian manner, subtler and less extreme than Pletnev in his recent DG recording. As in the Fourth Concerto, the agogic freedom Kissin allows himself in moments of visionary meditation is underwritten both by the orchestra and his own capacity to return swiftly and pointedly to the tempo primo. A sterner producer might have persuaded Davis to provide a grunt-free start to the string recitative that begins the slow movement of the Fourth Concerto. The exchanges, stilted at first, shed self-consciousness as the dialogue evolves and quietens. And the finale is a delight, the scherzando and visionary elements held in perfect balance. (An unlooked-for bonus is the fact that the set is being offered at budget price!)”
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