Haydn: Piano Sonata in E-flat Major, Hob. XVI: 49
Beethoven: Piano Sonata No 32 in C Minor, Op. 111
Schubert: Impromptu in F Minor, D. 935, No 1
Schubert: Impromptu in B-flat Major, D. 935, No 3
Schubert: Impromptu in G-flat Major, D. 899, No 3
Schubert: Impromptu in A-flat Major, D. 899, No 4
Liszt: Hungarian Rhapsody, No 12 in C-sharp Minor
After having to sit out Eugene Kissin's Carnegie Hall recitals the last couple of years because the tickets sold out so fast, I jumped on the tickets for this season's recital as soon as they became available last summer and finally managed to score a precious one. At last, I was in. That's how on Friday night I found myself at Carnegie Hall surrounded by what had to be the entire Russian population of the New York metropolitan area. Eugene Kissin being to the Russian and the rest of the world what Lang Lang is to the Chinese and the rest of the world, here again the Stern Auditorium stage had been filled with as many seats as possible due to an obviously insatiable demand.
For the members of the audience who were actually there for the music and not just to catch a glimpse of the young classical music superstar, the program fortunately looked pretty appealing as well, with a chronological progression going from Haydn to Liszt by way of Beethoven and Schubert. I was originally disappointed than Chopin was not included, but quickly decided to stop nit-picking and enjoy the eagerly awaited performance already.
And there was a lot to be enjoyed. The musical feast started with a particularly refined piano sonata by Haydn. After getting over the surprise of discovering the old master's expertise in piano composition, I was completely taken by the clear and elegant rendition of it by Eugene Kissin. As a matter of fact, the well-proportioned and subtle nature of the work, an exquisite example of Viennese Classicism, was such that it did not manage to keep my neighbor to the right awake. His loss.
But not to worry. "Sturm und Drang" were just around the corner with Beethoven's tremendously powerful last sonata, the one whose only two movements are more complex and ambitious than many more traditionally structured pieces. Always a Romantic at heart, Eugene Kissin sounded as if he whole-heartedly relished sinking his teeth into such an awe-inspiring work and emerged largely victorious thanks to his deft combination of technical assuredness and artistic sensibility.
Still in Romantic Vienna, we moved on to Schubert and four impromptus of his, which turned out to be much more substantial than their name could lead to believe, a name that was bestowed upon by Schubert's publisher Haslinger. Each of them oozing its very own mood of tonal poetry, they received an unhurried, lusciously beautiful treatment by Eugene Kissin and, by the same token, made you wonder what Schubert would have been able to create if he had not died the year after those came out at the incredibly young age of 31.
I would think that any virtuoso musician sooner or later yearns to boldly tackle a virtuoso challenge, and very few pieces are as adequate for that task as the wild ride that is Liszt's Hungarian Rhapsody No 12. The fact that it has found a permanent place in popular culture and keeps on appearing in movies, cartoons and - why not? - baseball games, speaks volumes for its universal mass appeal. On Friday night, Eugene Kissin proved again why he more than deserve his virtuoso stripes by delivering a technically impressive and emotionally dramatic interpretation of it, confidently balancing the quiet interludes and the raging fireworks. Those high-flying 10 minutes were handled by the young pianist with the savvy and poise of an old pro for the highest pleasure of the adoring audience.
Since Eugene Kissin had played 12 - No, it is not a typo - encores at his May 2007 Carnegie Hall concert and the starting time of Friday night's concert was 7:00 PM, I could not help but wonder - with a little hope in my heart - if it meant that quite a few extra goodies would be performed after the official program was over.
Well, we did not get 12 encores, and each of the three we did get was earned by loud and prolonged applause in between them, but they were all totally worth the effort. The first one was a delicate Mélodie from Orfeo ed Euridice by Gluck (arranged by Sgambati), then it was back to more Lisztian pleasure with his Étude No 10 in F Minor and "Die Forelle", D. 564 (after Schubert, D. 550). That'll definitely do for this time.