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Posted October 1, 2010
(1) Brahms’ F Minor piano sonata is one of the longest, most ambitious, and most impressive ever written. Any competent (and, in the wake of the Joyce Hatto scandal, authentic) recording of the work automatically will receive attention from current record-buyers, while any truly magnificent recording will be treasured by present and future generations. This late 2001 recording by Russian virtuoso pianist Evgeny Kissin, while short of “truly magnificent,” is extremely good and may yet come to be regarded as a classic. (2) The most commendable aspect of the recording is that Kissin unerringly maintains a sense of forward momentum in a work that, due to its length and use of repeats, all too easily can become static. Two factors, closely related, account for this: Kissin’s technical prowess, which enables him to blitz through the most demanding passages with hair-raising ease, and his tempo choices, which invariably are quick but never seem rushed. The quick tempos are one reason why Kissin does not find the same depth of expression in the work as does, say, Julius Katchen in his 1960’s stereo recording. The other reason, of course, is Katchen’s singular affinity with Brahms. Kissin, however, convincingly outplays Katchen in the knuckle-busting first movement and in general delivers a performance that does not strike me as superficial. Someday, I hope to compare Kissin’s recording to Katchen’s 1949 mono recording, in which Katchen reportedly attacks the work with unbridled ferocity. (3) Mention of 1949 mono sound brings me to the issue of sound quality on the Kissin recording. Simply put, it is acceptable but should have been better, given the December 2001 recording date. The recording is not at all muddy, but it does seem slightly recessed and also slightly metallic in some fortissimo passages. The sound quality, however, should not dissuade you from acquiring this disc, as Kissin’s performance would merit four stars even with good 1949 mono sound. With acceptable 2001 sound, it merits four and a half stars. Add to that the absolutely superb booklet notes and the interesting fillers, and you have a five-star release. (4) One caveat: the F Minor sonata is a warhorse, so in addition to this Kissin recording you should consider whatever favorably reviewed recordings have hit store shelves in the last three or four years (excluding ones by Joyce Hatto, of course).Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.