Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Piano Sonata No. 9, K. 311
Frédéric Chopin: Scherzo for piano No. 2 in B-flat Minor, Op. 31
Sergei Rachmaninoff: Lilacs
Sergei Rachmaninoff: Prelude Op. 32, No. 8
Sergei Rachmaninoff: Prelude Op 23, No. 10
Sergei Rachmaninoff: Études-Tableaux Op. 39 (No. 1, 2, 4, 5 and 9)
In all my years as a frequent concert-goer in Washington, DC and New York City, one of the hardest musician to get to was, unsurprisingly, Russian pianist extraordinaire and international superstar Eugene Kissin, mostly because the meteoric ascent of his popularity coincided with my last few years in DC and then my decade in New York, where the unusually large and extremely loyal Russian community used to grab all the reasonably priced tickets before I got a chance to make a move.
These days, the main challenge with my winter base of Rome when it comes to classical music concerts is that the city’s main concert venue, the futuristic-looking Auditorium Parco della Musica Ennio Morricone complex, is located outside the city walls and, even worse, nowhere near a subway station, and who wants to wait for the bus or tram when it is cold, dark, and possibly raining? So I kept on postponing my first foray into it while nevertheless keeping a watchful eye on the generally appealing programming.
And then, a few months ago, I saw that Eugene Kissin would be there on February 22, which happens to be my Name Day in France, for a recital featuring Bach, Mozart, Chopin and Rachmaninoff, and I decided that I should just stop fussing and go already. Moreover, since the Russian community of Rome does not even come close to the New York one in terms of number or fanaticism, I had no problem getting a reasonably priced tickets for a very good seat.
And that’s how, almost 10 years after having witnessed Kissin’s undeniable magic in Carnegie Hall’s grand Stern Auditorium in the Big Apple for the first time, I finally went for another experience in the Parco della Musica’s modern Sala Santa Cecilia in the Eternal City.
And sure enough, here he was, with the same wild hair and cherubic face he had a decade ago (How on earth does he do it?). He resolutely crossed the stage, quickly sat down at the splendid Steinway piano and dove right into Bach’s Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, a much admired and slightly mysterious work, of which no less than 16 copies—but no original—still exist. Originally composed for the harpsicord, it unsurprisingly reveals a serious penchant for exactness and complexity, but also, more unexpectedly, a healthy dose of lush lyricism, which were all the most enjoyed thanks to the musician’s terrific performance and the space’s flawless acoustics.
After Bach’s surprise cocktail of Baroque and Romanticism, we moved on to the leader of the classical movement with Mozart and his Piano Sonata No. 9, K. 311. Although it does not often appear on concert programs, it is an irresistibly engaging composition, which is brilliantly packed with the Viennese master’s trademark elegance, wit, and ingenuity. Kissin’s light-footed interpretation was a true delight to the ear as well as a potential mood enhancer for all those who might have needed one.
Chopin is always a daunting but necessary challenge for pianists, and while it goes without saying that a musician of Kissin’s caliber is able to handle it, the question remained, how well? And on Thursday night the answer was, very well indeed. His was probably the most fiercely virtuosic take on Chopin’s implacably bold and intensely dramatic Scherzo No. 2 I had ever heard, and it understandably earned him the biggest ovation of the evening. That was the last piece before intermission, and it in fact felt like we were being treated to a let's-not-save-anything, end-of-the-night grand finale.
Fortunately for us, Kissin came back after the break, and dedicated the second half of the program to Rachmaninoff with an exciting assortment of Romance, Preludes and Études-Tableaux that covered an incredibly wide range of moods and colors for us to indulge in. And that we did, and very happily too, while he was obligingly churning out one wonderful little gem after another until he victoriously made it through the finish line, probably exhausted, but definitely still standing and smiling.
But then, it turned out that the Rachmaninoff festival was not over. As the mesmerized audience loudly begged for more, Kissin came back with three more priceless gifts, including the Mélodie and the Serenade from his Morceaux de fantaisie and, last but not least, the ever-popular Prelude in C-sharp Minor. Because one can never hear too much Rachmaninoff… or Kissin.