EVGENY KISSIN PLAYS CHOPIN — 2013 (1993–1998–1999–1993–2004–1990–1987)
Chopin is a musician that has so much invaded our daily life that we recognize so many excerpts and musical sentences that we seem to know him intimately and yet he is that common in our musical memory because he has been used, overused and even abused in the cinema and in advertising. He was Polish, hence strongly split by history between their Slavonic culture since their language is a Slav language, on one hand; their long history of colonization by the Germans, be they the Teutonic Knights who imposed Catholicism or the Nazis who imposed ethnic cleansing, on the other hand; and the French culture, diplomacy and influence with exchanges in elites of all sorts as well as emigration to France of miners and many other Poles before the Second World War just to survive or live a decent active life, or after the Second World War to run away from the Communists, on the third hand, or on one foot if you prefer.
The Poland of Chopin was torn thus between old roots and new attractions. He moved to France and he kept what was original in Polish music but without any trace of Slav or Slavonic traditions, or so little if any. In France he was under the influence of their music and he composed, performed and maybe dreamed in the French tradition of the nineteenth century. His connection with George Sand in Paris was essential for him to integrate this both mundane and cultivated Parisian elite.
Too often his music is reduced to virtuosity and light even when intense entertainment, at times anecdotic fables or images or tableaus like the famous Waltz of the Little Dog, with the dog or poodle supposedly running after its own tail. Many of the compositions are circumstantial pieces that have no real title or dedication. Numerous “Impromptus”, “Nocturnes,” “Polonaises,” “Fantaisies,” “Waltzes” or “Valses,” twenty-four “Preludes,” “Ballades,” “Barcaroles,” “Berceuses,” “Mazurkas,” and a few “Sonates.” And it is in these sonatas that you may find works that turn tragic, dramatic, like the Piano Sonata N° 2 in B-flat minor op.35. It even contains a Funeral March.
And that’s what this performer, Evgeny Kissin, brings us. He is surprisingly stronger and more dynamic than many other performers. He plays this music with force, power, maybe even diabolic furor, fury as Trump would like to say, and the fire of his performance is scalding our skin with devilish flames. Kissin takes Chopin down to hell and us along with him and you will enjoy that trip to Hades, except if you fall in love with the ferryman, Charon on his boat across the Lethe river and the twenty-four preludes should make you get enamored with that mythical character. You will be trapped on the Lethe river for ever. Good adventure!
All that to say that Chopin does deserve better than the traditional very mundane and innocuous and tasteless performing and the piano at the time of Chopin was conquering the power Kissin is injecting into it. I would say, in a way, Kissin saves Chopin and the piano from socialite elitist “bon goût,” good taste, that is so Parisian and so bourgeois in the worst understanding possible. And George Sand was defying this elite, she was a complete part of, by dressing as a transvestite man, smoking big I guess Cuban or Spanish cigars, the cigars of the future Carmen, and drinking strong beverages in the Cafés of the Capital of Human Perdition, the Babylon of the 19th century in the making.
Just let this music run and you will migrate to a higher heaven than the traditional high society mongrel paradise of non-believers. Somewhere Chopin has kept his Polish faith that believes in Hell and the Messianic Jerusalem. He rediscovers the power of the various “Danse Macabre” of the fifteenth century, or the “tenebrae’s” of the seventeenth century, not to mention the Requiem or Requiems of the eighteenth century. His Funeral March is known all around the world and it is in the best traditions of Charpentier’s Tenebrae’s and Mozart’s Requiem. The magic of this piano emerging from the weak piano forte and becoming the monster of musical concerts that we know today.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU