Evgeny Kissin – Grieg's Piano | Auditorium Parco della Musica | 5 February, 2012

Russian-born classical pianist Evgeny Kissin returned to enthral audiences in Rome at the weekend for a series of three concerts in the Santa Cecilia concert hall at the Auditorium Parco della Musica performing Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg's perennially popular Piano Concerto. British conductor James Judd stepped in at the last minute for Vladimir Jurowski who had been originally slated to conduct the Santa Cecilia Orchestra, but was forced to cancel due to sudden illness.

With Rome brought to a standstill by heavy snow falls and with schools, offices and museums closed, I had feared the worst on Saturday morning and resigned myself to the fact that the concert would surely be cancelled – thanks to the goodwill of the performers and the organisers, however, the concert was merely postponed until Sunday afternoon.

Grieg's Piano Concerto is something of a warhorse. One of my own earliest memories of hearing it as a child is a television sketch by British comedy legends Morecambe and Wise in which Eric Morecambe, together with an orchestra conducted by an exasperated André Previn, attempts to perform the concerto by playing “all the right notes, but not necessarily in the right order”! Incidentally, that often repeated piece of vintage comedy first aired in 1971, the year in which Evgeny Kissin was born. A former child prodigy upon whom the “genius” epithet was bestowed at a tender age – he was playing entire piano concertos from memory at age four – the forty year old adult Kissin is now a critically acclaimed virtuoso and considered one of the world's great pianists. Who better than Kissin to bring fresh life and power to those familiar motifs of Grieg's richly melodic concerto? I was utterly captivated by the understated bravura of his playing throughout the entire performance.

The sold-out concert hall was maybe not as full as one would have expected under normal circumstances, but the rapturous applause and cheers of bravo from the audience were as loud as ever when Kissin took his bows at the end of the concert and was cheered back on stage for a first exhilarating encore, where he announced in a surprisingly deep voice that he would play Grieg's From the Carnival. Kissin has a reputation for enormous generosity with his encores and true to form, the audience managed to cajol him out again for one final gem – an exquisite rendition of Chopin's Minute Waltz. A must-see performer!

The concert was rounded out with Brahms' Tragic Overture, which opened the afternoon, and Tchaikovsky's immensely enjoyable Symphony No 2 - “The Little Russian”, which were also met with warm applause.

Full programme:
Tragic Overture
Piano Concerto in A minor
From the Carnival (Pictures from Country-Life, Op.19)
Minute Waltz
Symphony No 2 - “The Little Russian”