This selection received a Grammy nomination for "Best Classical Album" and "Best Instrumental Soloist Performance (without Orchestra)." The comparative simplicity of Chopin's Op. 28 Preludes (when placed against his Etudes, for example) and their status as "miniatures" often hide the fact that they are, in fact, extremely demanding pieces, especially in interpretation. These works, probably written in homage to Johann Sebastian Bach's 'Well-Tempered Clavier,' have been the eminent domain of such great pianists as Artur Rubinstein, Vladimir Horowitz and Claudio Arrau. The Preludes now belong to young Evgeny Kissin.
Although the U.S.S.R.'s system of identifying and training musically talented youngsters produced amazingly precocious pianists on a regular basis, Evgeny Kissin stood out from the rest for a talent far surpassing that of the usual Wunderkind. He has become, seemingly without difficulty, one of the finest adult pianists on the world's concert stages…
This is the second of Brilliant's box sets devoted to Russian recordings from Evgeny Kissin. Labeled as early, these live concert performances from 1984 to 1990 carry us from the day after Kissin turned 13 (Mozart Cto. #12 K. 414) to age 18 (Mozart Cto. #20, K. 466), with most readings clustering in the range of 1985-89. Russians were well aware of the marvel in their midst; the pianist's American breakthrough occurred in 1990 when he debuted at Carnegie Hall's centennial season. No one since Richter, debuting almost thirty years before, had made such a heady entry, and Richter was past fifty when he came here (briefly, since he loathed American capitalism and the pace of life in our big cities).
"Kissin's U.S. debut recital confirmed his status as a major pianist. The Prokofiev Sonata No. 6, one of Kissin's specialties since he was in his early teens, is very fluent and impressive, but it doesn't have the power the music needs for maximum impact. In fact, a lack of really powerful bass from the pianist's left hand (not a fault of the recording) lightens the weight of his playing throughout. But both sets of Schumann Variations are convincingly played (and contrasted), and Kissin's Liszt playing is as dazzling as any you'll hear". – Leslie Gerber
In my opinion, Evgeny Kissin's musical gifts and individuality have never been more apparent than on this CD. His technique is in top form (as always), and his ideas work brilliantly. The Sonata in F sharp minor Sonata is played convincingly, for once, and Kissin manages to hold together the grossly-overworked fandango rhythms in the first movement. The highlight of this disc, however, is Carnaval.
Recorded live, this Chopin program featuring three Impromptus, four Polonaises, and the Fantasie-Impromptu has all the electricity of a performance. Kissin, who captivated the world two decades ago as a sensational prodigy, is today a spectacular pianist and compelling personality. His virtuosity is by now taken for granted, but perhaps most extraordinary is his uncanny ability to change mood and expression instantaneously and to pace and build up climaxes. This is a matter not only of technique but of emotional concentration and involvement, yet it would be impossible without his mastery of touch, color, and nuance. Kissin's tone is beautiful: he can make the piano sing in long, sustained lines and his runs are brilliant and fleet but perfectly clear.
Evgeny Kissin has made brave choices in selecting this program. Schumann's Sonata No. 1 is a huge, sprawling piece, difficult to play and to hold together and therefore not very popular. Carnaval is one of Schumann's acknowledged masterpieces and has been recorded by a wide variety of pianists, providing plenty of competition. In the Sonata, Kissin's performance is a complete success. He has the largeness of spirit, powers of organization, and huge technique to make the music convincing and hold the listener's interest for more than half an hour. Carnaval is not quite so successful, as the pianist's fingers occasionally run away with him in rapid sections, and they become technical rather than musical events. Repeated listenings, though, reveal how well Kissin characterizes most of the music and how well his attention to detail ensures that we hear Schumann's ideas and countermelodies clearly. If the whole disc doesn't quite score A+, it's still very much worth hearing, especially for those Schumann lovers who don't know the Sonata well.
The other major orchestral release here features the Richard Strauss recordings conducted for Sony Classical by Zubin Mehta.