A month following his appearance with the Emerson String Quartet, pianist Evgeny Kissin will return to Symphony Center on Sunday to offer a daring solo recital that is best described by a single word: bravado. In his youth, Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin was the rising star of the piano world. Now in his late 40s, he is not so young anymore, but he still deserves his reputation for bold and fiery playing, which he has amply demonstrated in his other recent appearances at Symphony Center.
Sunday’s program is intensely challenging from start to finish. It opens with a gargantuan work, Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Sonata no. 29 in B-flat major, op. 106, Hammerklavier. Each of the five piano sonatas that kick off Beethoven’s late period bears distinct characteristics of the new directions his music was taking. The Hammerklavier brings it all together in a stunning display of fireworks that often borders on hubris. Even with all of the excitement, its longest movement is a slow, beautifully crafted Adagio sostenuto that requires highly reflective and delicate playing. There is a lot to like about this masterpiece, and Beethoven himself considered it his best work in the form.
Being one of the most difficult piano works ever written, the Hammerklavier is very challenging to the performer, but its length and intensity also make it challenging for the listener. While some of the sonata’s thematic material might seem less compelling than the other late sonatas and several earlier ones, a live performance is always a treat—and a test of endurance. Given his capability as a performer, Kissin is an ideal candidate to pull it off. He will no doubt start this recital with a giant exclamation point.
The notion that a concert would actually start with the Hammerklavier sonata is rather hard to fathom; it would be very challenging to concoct a scenario where it actually makes sense. However, when the only other works on the program are preludes by Sergei Rachmaninoff, realistic possibilities arise.
Spread over three separate opuses, Rachmaninoff wrote 24 preludes, one for each key. As with the Hammerklavier, the preludes combine stormy sections with moments of quiet meditation. While the 24 preludes are crafted very differently from one another, they are unified in one major way: the technical demands on the performer are extreme. Evgeny Kissin is certainly capable of offering a marvelous rendition, and Sunday’s concert will feature 10 of them. (One can hope that an encore will include Rachmaninoff’s most famous prelude, in c-sharp minor, op. 3 no. 2, which is not listed on the program.)
Evgeny Kissin will be playing this Sunday, May 13, 2018, at Symphony Center, 220 S. Michigan Ave, Chicago, 3:00 pm. $55-$180.