Normally classical pianists are verbally silent. But Evgeny Kissin has taken a different tact, mixing poetry with his playing…and all by memory.
When he sprang on the scene as a mere teenager, Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin already seemed a musician poetic as well as authoritative. Three decades later, long since a concert hall star, he has taken a break from a steady diet of pianistic warhorses to explore his personal heritage in a program titled “An Evening of Jewish Music and Poetry.”
It comprised two sonatas and a suite by Jewish composers, among which Kissin declaimed — dramatically, by memory — 15 Yiddish poems by the Polish author and playwright Isaac Leybush Peretz (1852-1915).
The only composer’s name likely to be familiar to any but specialists was Ernest Bloch (1890-1959). Swiss by birth, American by adoption, Bloch favored an international musical language seasoned with Jewish influences. Dating from 1935, his sole Piano Sonata seemed suspended somewhere between Scriabin and Samuel Barber.
I can’t pretend to have heard any of these pieces before, but Kissin’s performances seemed convincingly balanced between passion and structural integrity. They certainly whetted the appetite for more of this unknown fare.