When this performance was recorded at the Verbier Festival in July 2004, pianist Evgeny Kissin was a very mature 33 years old. A prodigy produced in part by the Soviet musical educational system and in part by his own astounding talent, Kissin made his international recording debut in 1988 at the age of 17 with a sparkling, sprightly, and absolutely spectacular performance of Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 12 on RCA. Since then, Kissin has gone from strength to strength -- an astoundingly virtuosic recording of Tchaikovsky's First Piano Concerto, a masterfully passionate recording of Rachmaninov's Third Concerto, and later, an overwhelmingly dramatic recording of Chopin's Ballades. But while Kissin's stature as a great pianist is assured, he has always had his critics. At first, they complained of his facile technique and willful interpretations. Later, some disparaged what they called his too bland interpretations, while others disdained what they called his too histrionic interpretations. Wherever the truth may be between those charges, in this 2004 live recital of Chopin's Impromptus and four Polonaises, Kissin's technique is stupendous. Everything from the lightest leggerio passagework in the Fantaisie-Impromptu to the heaviest fortissimo sonorities of the A flat major Polonaise sounds easy for him. But as for Kissin's interpretations, while the debate may rage over whether he's too bland or merely reserved, too histrionic or merely dramatic, it's certain he's no longer sparkling or sprightly. In piece after piece here, Kissin's tempos are on the slow side, his rhythms on the weighty side, his sonorities on the heavy side, and his melodies way over on the over-interpreted side. Whether this is a good or bad thing is up to the individual listener, but it does leave open the question of how slow and heavy Kissin might get by the time he reaches his forties.
RCA's live digital sound is lushly reverberant, but a tad too clangorous.