A MEETING OF MINDS
Evgeny Kissin and Emerson String Quartet celebrate debut collaboration
The prospect of an evening of chamber music made by Evgeny Kissin and the Emerson String Quartet was bound to raise the highest expectations. But what would their first collaboration bring? That question was answered in full over the course of eight concerts given in January and April last year in Baden-Baden, Paris, Munich, Essen, Vienna, Chicago, Boston and New York. To say that the results – projected into music by Mozart, Fauré and Dvořák – were special would be an understatement, as can be heard in The New York Concert, Deutsche Grammophon’s recording of the tour’s final date at Carnegie Hall, which will be released on 5 April 2019.
Eugene Drucker, violinist with the world-renowned Emerson Quartet since its formation in 1976, and his colleagues – fellow violinist and founder member Philip Setzer, violist Lawrence Dutton and cellist Paul Watkins – shared a sense of keen anticipation before their first rehearsal with the equally distinguished pianist Evgeny Kissin. Like countless other admirers of Kissin’s work, the Emersons were naturally aware of his jaw-dropping virtuosity and huge expressive range, and had therefore welcomed their management’s idea that they should work together. They were soon to discover the pianist’s desire to explore every phrase, every detail of the architecture of the contrasting yet interconnected works they chose to play. The preparation process, as Drucker recalls, created space for a true meeting of minds, allowing Kissin and the Emersons to preserve their individual characteristics while revealing qualities unique to their collaboration.
All five musicians worked enthusiastically together to achieve a synthesis of views, from which emerged their dynamic interpretations of Mozart’s Piano Quartet No.1 in G minor K.478, Fauré’s Piano Quartet No.1 in C minor Op.15 and Dvořák’s Piano Quintet No.2 in A major Op.81. Their choice of repertoire also comprised two encore pieces, including the Scherzo from Shostakovich’s Piano Quintet in G minor Op.57.
Ideas tested in the rehearsal room were subsequently forged in the heat of performance, unleashing elemental shifts between Classical heroism and Romantic introspection, and drawing out points of dramatic tension and release. Everything flowed, nothing became fixed as Kissin and the Emersons moved from one concert to the next. Last year’s performances, notes Drucker, “were the highlights of [their] season”.
The close mutual understanding established between pianist and quartet was apparent to all who witnessed it. Reviewing the Carnegie Hall concert, classical music site Bachtrack underlined the “palpable sense of communion”, while The New York Times observed that the “strong, veteran string players … seemed ideally matched with the commanding pianist, and they had evidently achieved instant rapport”. Listeners to DG’s The New York Concert will now be able to discover the power of this new partnership for themselves.
Evgeny Kissin releases Beethoven album to launch new exclusive contract with Deutsche Grammophon after 25 years
“It has been clear for some time that Evgeny Kissin is a Beethoven player of rare pedigree and distinction, the finest Russian-born Beethovenian since Emil Gilels,” Gramophone
Any history of the great pianists would be incomplete without a chapter devoted to Evgeny Kissin. The 45-year-old artist is blessed with the rare qualities required to enter the pantheon of piano legends. A recent recital at London’s Barbican Centre inspired the Telegraph to describe his playing as “miraculous”, while the New York Times wrote of the pianist’s “blend of technical mastery and eloquent artistry” following a spellbinding performance at Carnegie Hall.
After a break of twenty-five years, the pianist has signed a new exclusive contract with the yellow label. Kissin’s discography already contains landmark recordings for Deutsche Grammophon, critically acclaimed collaborations with the Berliner Philharmoniker, Herbert von Karajan and Claudio Abbado among them, and the association between artist and label resumes with the release of a Beethoven album in August. The double-disc set, its programme personally chosen by Kissin from recitals given over the past decade, includes Piano Sonatas No. 14 Op. 27 No. 2, “Moonlight”, No. 23 Op. 57, “Appassionata”, and No. 26 Op. 81a, “Les Adieux”. It also comprises the evergreen 32 Variations in C minor WoO 80 and a profound exploration of the sublime two-movement Piano Sonata No. 32 Op. 111, the composer’s final work in the genre. The album, Kissin’s first solo recital recording in more than a decade, represents a major addition to his Beethoven discography and an essential document of his artistic development.
“These recordings were made in the moment of performance,” observes the pianist. “Live recordings always surpass studio albums for me, because I feel more inspired when playing for an audience. It means a lot to me to be able to share the spirit of that live experience with others.”
Evgeny Kissin made his mark as a child prodigy in Russia in the early 1980s. He entranced international audiences with captivating interpretations of Romantic masterworks during his teens, and has since flourished as one of the world’s most charismatic and visionary performers. Herbert von Karajan, beguiled by Kissin’s playing, invited him to perform Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 at the Berliner Philharmoniker’s New Year’s Eve concert in 1988. The combination of young soloist and charismatic conductor produced a revelatory interpretation, recorded by Deutsche Grammophon and released a few months after Karajan’s death in July 1989.
Kissin’s collaboration with the conductor appears as a compelling episode in his autobiography. Memoirs and Reflections, scheduled for publication on 8 June 2017 by the London-based Orion Press, offers a moving account of the pianist’s childhood in Russia, explores his close relationship with his parents and his teacher, Anna Pavlovna Kantor, and casts light on the inspirational world of the Russian-Jewish intelligentsia. It also encompasses Kissin’s philosophical outlook and self-understanding, together with his penetrating observations on fellow musicians and creative artists.
“Audiences have been captivated by Evgeny Kissin’s poetic artistry, brilliant mind and fearless virtuosity for more than thirty years,” comments Dr Clemens Trautmann, President Deutsche Grammophon. “We are delighted to continue our relationship with an artist who takes pleasure in playing for people. This is underlined by the fact that Evgeny Kissin explicitly opted for a live album – with excerpts from recitals given around the world, from New York to Seoul, Vienna to Verbier. His new album records his evolving relationship with Beethoven, a composer to whom his approach is particularly suited. Rarely is the transformation of written music into an intellectual and emotional listening experience as palpable and compelling as it is with Kissin’s Beethoven.”
Ute Fesquet, Vice President Artists & Repertoire at DG, also welcomes the opportunity of working with the pianist. “Discussing with Evgeny which Beethoven recordings to select for this album from a huge treasure trove of material was a fascinating and rewarding process,” she notes. “We feel honoured and blessed that he has put his trust in us to share them with the world. It is of course no coincidence that this anthology will be released shortly after he returns to the international stage after a sabbatical with a programme featuring several key works by Beethoven. And there is much more to come…”