Chopin: Ballades, etc.
Evgeny Kissin has been accused of being a bland interpreter in recent years. True, his Prokofiev First and Third (DG) was guilty of a rather smooth perfectionism, the kind of deft pianism you admire--while you're reading the paper. But at least his last two releases on RCA, this Chopin disc and a brilliant Schumann one earlier this year, are anything but bland. Here, Kissin plays Chopin with dynamics and accenting more than vaguely reminiscent of Horowitz at his best. He displays far better control, in fact, of forte markings and of rubato than the often self-possessed Horowitz usually did.
The Four Ballades have drawn the attention of so many great pianists in so many truly great performances; it's difficult to compile a list of favorites: Rubinstein (RCA), Ashkenazy (London), and Zimerman (DG) are just a few. Kissin's account must now be ranked among the best. In fact, if I had to select one set of the four Ballades, it would be this one. His renditions of the First and Third are hands-down winners. Where Zimerman can be so moving yet so frustrating in his sometimes quirky interpretive mannerisms (try the Third Ballade, beginning at 4:40, where he plays the climactic emotional outpouring with a curiously deadening softness at the outset), Kissin doesn't disappoint, owing to his innate sense for drama and flow, and to his intelligent phrasing. In fact, he not only never misses the interpretive boat in these four works, but rarely is he ever less than utterly convincing throughout. His tempos, for instance, always seem so right, so perfect, yet without ever sounding middle-of-the-road, and nothing in any performance ever even hints at the neutralizing air of calculation or nonchalance.
In the other pieces here, Kissin displays the same high artistry: the Barcarolle brims with passion and beauty, the Scherzo effervesces with wit and grace, and the Berceuse charms and mesmerizes in its delicacies. Of course, dozens of pianists have traveled these highways as well, but Kissin's versions are distinguished and competitive with the best. RCA provides excellent sound. This is a classic recital disc!