Standing ovation for Evgeny Kissin in Rome

Santa Cecilia Hall, Auditorium Parco della Musica – 5 December 2013
Evgeny Kissin
It's a staggering thought, but Russian-born classical pianist Evgeny Kissin has been thrilling concert-goers for some three decades now - quite some feat if one considers that he is still only 42. The one time pre-teen prodigy is now lauded by critics as one of the most formidable adult players in the world today, and luckily for us in Rome, he returns almost annually to perform in the Santa Cecilia Hall at the Auditorium Parco della Musica. There is always that special buzz of eager anticipation prior to a Kissin performance, so I was surprised to see some empty seats in the concert hall for his solo recital on Thursday evening. The recession is clearly taking its toll on ticket sales in Rome – Kissin events are usually sold-out – but when he walked out on stage, he was greeted with deafening applause, which belied the empty places. A reception of such warmth is reserved for only a handful of classical music performers at the Auditorium, and the audience would get louder, with whoops and cheers added to the applause, as the concert progressed.

Kissin is a virtuoso pianist of impeccable technique, yet what makes him so remarkable is his musical approach and insight – he seeks out the very heart of a composition – and takes an audience on that journey. There were moments on Thursday evening when I found myself smiling and almost gasping out loud at the brilliance of his playing, particularly during the second half of the concert dedicated to Scriabin – the poetic Sonata n. 2 op. 19, followed by a selection of the composer's Chopinesque Études op. 8, in which Kissin effortlessly ran through the gamut of emotions, switching mood from wistfully nostalgic, though achingly sad, to passionate. It was breathtaking playing.

After five curtain calls and thunderous applause at the end of the concert, Kissin finally ended the cat and mouse teasing with his adoring public and sat down again for three sublime encores – the Kempff transcription of Bach's Siciliana, another Scriabin Étude, and to close the evening, an exhilarating Polonaise, Op. 53 by Chopin, which brought the cheering audience to its feet for a well deserved standing ovation.

Full programme:
Sonata D 850 op.53
Sonata n. 2 op. 19 (Sonata-Fantasy)
Études op. 8 - nn. 2, 4, 5, 8, 9, 11, 12
Étude op.42 n.5
Polonaise, Op. 53 (Heroic)