Nineteen years ago a 24-year-old Russian pianist stunned the Colón´s audience in a recital and a concert with the Buenos Aires Philharmonic. He was Evgueni Kissin, already famous after a meteoric career started when he was ten. He showed then not only astonishing technical command but a mature view of style and phrasing.
He is now 43 and in his first maturity he confirmed and deepened the impression of those far-off days, which left an imprint in true music lovers. Unfortunately three years ago he was scheduled to come but the death of his father of course prevented it. Now his recital was the shining light in what otherwise (except for a combination of Paula Almerares and Karin Lechner) is a disastrous subscription series called "Quinto Aniversario", made up of five popular events and two classical...at the Colón! Probably the worst programming idea of the García Caffi years.
By the way, the high price of the stalls and loges provoked considerable empty places; from "Cazuela" up the people could pay and it was full. Only Barenboim and Argerich can get sold-out Colóns at elevated cost for the audience. But after all there´s always a VIP sector than can pay in other venues Rafa Nadal or Paul McCartney at even higher prices.
Curiously enough, Kissin combined in the First Part the same two scores of Barenboim´s epochal recitals of August 2000 celebrating the 50 years of his first public presentation. First, Mozart´s Sonata Nº 10, K.330, one of his lightest, and in total contrast, Beethoven at his most dramatic, Sonata Nº 23, "Appassionata". Mozart in his hands was crystalline, wholly intelligible; he did a rather unaccustomed thing: he played all the repeats, even that of the last movement´s last section, seemingly conclusive, so that some people were understandably fooled and interrupted with applause.
The "Appassionata" was strong and magisterial, fully controlled, stark where it should be, singing when required. I have to admit however that with such masterpieces one has engraved in memory some reference performances, and I can´t say I was as fully moved and convinced as with Backhaus or the young Gulda or Rubinstein. But I was utterly convinced by the reading of Brahms´ introspective Three Intermezzi, Op. 117; this was ideal in sensitivity to inner voices and textures.
Then came another surprise: Kissin´s affinity with Spanish music. In a repertoire that I will forever associate with Alicia de Larrocha, the Russian master of the piano managed a total immersion in its character and inflexions, plus of course marvelous feats of virtuoso playing. Four lovely pieces by Albéniz had splendid performances: "Granada" and "Cádiz" from the "Suite Española Nº 1", "Córdoba" and "Asturias" from "Cantos de España". Contemplative melodies alternated with scintillating dance-like episodes. And to top it all, the unabashedly virtuosic Jota "¡Viva Navarra!", by Joaquín Larregla, gave us cascades in the high range and blind octaves at the end, both at unbelievable speeds but always under control.
The aesthetic pleasure was by then in full cry, and the sensation was kept in the three encores: the very characteristic "Danza española Nº 5" by Granados; a fantastic rendition of Chopin´s "Heroic Polonaise" (those amazing left hand octaves!) and a beautiful one of his delicate Mazurka Op. 68 Nº 2.
Last Thursday´s B.A. Phil concert under Enrique Arturo Diemecke will be remembered for the second score of the evening, for it was the first time that our city heard a pipa (Chinese lute) in concert. And the instrument has fascinating possibilities of expression, as was demonstrated by the soloist Gao Hong prior to the execution of Tan Dun´s Concerto for pipa and string orchestra. Of that composer we heard some years ago his Water Concerto for what he calls "aquatic percussion". He is the most famous Chinese composer nowadays, but frankly that doesn´t amount to much.
In fact this concert was supposed to have the debut of Chinese conductor Tan Li Hua and the two scores from that country were announced thus: "Tibetan Dance" (if you can believe that Tibet should be a part of China) by Sang Kejie; and "Concerto for pipa" by Zhao Jiping; and the pipa player was supposed to be Wu Man. As usual, no explanation was given by the Colón, but at least the basic idea of offering Chinese music was respected.
That said, I was impressed by the beauty of the pipa´s sound and the total command shown by Ms Gao Hong. Diemecke obtained a convincingly Chinese sound out of the Phil´s strings. Tan Dun´s music is basicaly a skillful play with effects though with little substance. But it was miles ahead of the frankly trivial first score of the night: "Lovers Besieged" by Ge Gan-Ru, born 1954. Here the mediocrity of the ideas made me lose interest after just a few minutes.
I do hope that China is producing better music than this, but of course the infamous Cultural Revolution left indelible scars; maybe they need more time for after all they are assimilating Occidental ways of musical tradition when they write for a symphony orchestra.
A good performance of Tchaikovsky´s Fifth Symphony ended the evening, with Diemecke´s habitual expansive ways. I do think however that the famous horn solo at the beginning of the second movement was way too slow; but on the whole it was enjoyable.
For Buenos Aires Herald