New Classical Tracks: Exhilarating Mozart

by Julie Amacher, Minnesota Public Radio
September 28, 2010
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St. Paul, Minn. — I first remember hearing Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin in 1988. That's the year he released a recording of Rachmaninoff's Second Piano Concerto. I was amazed when I learned he was just 17 years old. I was even more astonished to learn that four years earlier, he had stunned the Russian musical world with his performances of both Chopin concertos. His career has been one professional conquest after another. On his latest release, featuring two Mozart piano concertos, Evgeny Kissin, for the first time, takes on the dual role of pianist and conductor, with the Kremerata Baltica. This chamber orchestra, founded by violinist Gidon Kremer in 1997, features talented young musicians from the Baltic states, all under age 27. Their youthful energy is a perfect match for Evgeny Kissin's powerful precision at the keyboard.

Evgeny Kissin debuted with an orchestra at age 10, playing Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 20. On this recording, we hear Kissin interpreting that work after living with it for more than 20 years.

It comes from a period of great creativity in the composer's career. Mozart moved to Vienna in 1781, and wrote 17 piano concertos over the next decade, including this one in D minor -- a somewhat unusual key for Mozart, but one he returned to again in his Requiem and in the damnation scene of his opera "Don Giovanni." In this work, waves of passion and fear are emitted from the orchestral sections in the first movement. The soloist is not deterred. Evgeny Kissin dives into this stormy sea with a performance that's elegant yet powerful. Beethoven wrote out the solo cadenzas featured near the close of the first and last movements of this concerto. Evgeny Kissin capitalizes on the element of surprise in the cadenza of the first movement, offering a thrilling performance.

The slow second movement is titled "Romanze," a term used in the 18th century to reflect the songlike quality of the movement. The soloist plays a wistful melody, with gentle orchestral accompaniment providing a cushion of support. Evgeny Kissin's tender touch and lyrical phrasing pulls in the listener so we won't miss a note. His performance of the turbulent finale is stormy, yet playful. The Kremerata Baltica follows Kissin's lead, offering a crisp, energetic conclusion to this work.

The Piano Concerto No. 27 is the last of Mozart's piano concertos. He wrote it the year he died, following two years of dwindling public success. The orchestral opening frequently shifts to a minor mood, while the soloist reminisces his way through a nostalgic theme. Five-note flourishes from the woodwinds and horns punctuate this movement, creating memorable interplay between soloist and orchestra. This musical conversation continues in the second movement--traditionally a slow movement, though here, the tempo is in cut time, making it quicker than usual. The simplicity of this movement makes it sparkle. The final movement is playful and mischievous. Here, the composer works to wipe away his sadness, though the minor mood continues to worm its way into the joyful Allegro.

The musical world has known Evgeny Kissin as an outstanding pianist for over twenty years, since his debut as a ten-year-old boy. Now he's made a second debut, as a conductor, joining with the Kremerata Baltica on this new disc, with performances that are passionate and exhilarating.

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