EVGENY KISSIN — BEETHOVEN — 2017 (2006–2007–2012 — -2016–2006–2013)
Of course the purists are going to regret the fact this CD is recorded with a standard grand piano of today that has so little to do with the piano forte Beethoven was only able to use. It is said that he more or less “visualized” in his private ear the sound of what it was going to become after him. But even so this piano sound is not the one Beethoven composed for. But we can forget about purism and let that purified notion for some very specialized festivals where the audience is supposed to be — but are they really beyond any amount of trendiness — illuminated and enlightened in that pure approach of things. After this remark let’s say Evgeny Kissin plays with the instrument he knows and has learned to play on since he was a child, a very young child, and let’s enjoy the way this pianist uses his piano to give to Beethoven’s music a dimension it would not have otherwise, because of the instrument and because of the performer who plays more with his piano than the piano itself. This piano is a toy and a living toy at that for Kissin and God, how he tickles it, he manhandles it, he brings it to the extreme limits of its possibilities, of both its (the piano’s) technicality and his (Kissin’s) expressivity, emotional expressivity. More than ever in the history of music we are shifting from the simple inner pleasure of reverberating the harmony, the tempo/tempi and the coloration of the music to something more carnal, more sexual even, some kind of inner, sentimental, sensual, spiritual at times, always sensuous experience of the music in one’s flesh, mind, brain, imagination, at this level of abstract representation that cannot use words any more to speak of the inner circulation of humors and subterranean flowing, seeping and dripping of impulses, needs, desires, flashes of unconscious possession from the deepest of our irrational mental spirituality. That’s the music of the last fifty years, maybe slightly more. Kissin is just injecting this experiential and existential vision into Beethoven who was from another age but finds a new life in this performance, under these obviously erotic fingers that want to bring all the hormonal and vital fluids of the music and the musicians down into the piano via his fingers and feet.
Kissin seems to practice Beethoven as if he were an onanistic toy for his sole and only pleasure that he accepts to scatter around and to sprinkle us with, and we end up drenched with this music from another mental cosmos. That’s so fabulous.
Piano Sonata N° 3 in C major op. 2/3 is thus alternating the most extreme moods from pure rebellion and violence to the deepest sadness of total deprivation. And the trio is taking us so fast in its turning movement we feel like a top on a hot, very hot surface and we turn, and we whirl, and we spin like a maelstrom in the mouth of an erupting volcano. And do not hope for an end, since the pleasure is in the never ending spinning swiveling rotation that can only finish up in a brutal fall, and it sure does. So after that inebriating experience we can only get up and dance this time with birds, flowers and nature all around, with nymphs and satyrs, elves and gnomes, if gnomes can dance. The violence and rebellious tone of the beginning has thus vastly been replaced by an enticing universe that attracts and appeals us more than repulses us. We end up in joy and serenity, in satiated enjoyment more than a blissful climax. And we can go on reverberating, resounding, broadcasting all around us and inside our inner world that the rest of the universe cannot hear, the maybe skillfully satirical, humoristic playful mockery life is all about. And that will explode in our dreams, and only in our wet dreams inundated with music.
The thirty-two variations on one theme, practically without any real stop between one and the next, a continuous cut up flow of music on one theme, on the same notes, but the mood changing over and over again. It is probably not a prodigious and phenomenal work, but it is perfect for Kissin since he can erratically, at least it sounds like it, change moods, pass from one to the next, and go back to the previous one, and next just jumps over two, and then go on playing his hopscotch jump, skip, hop, dance, swerve, skip again and hop on forever and ever. It is as if he were swiftly turning or flipping the pages of a book of enticing images you don’t even want to see too long not to fall into some phantasmatic folly, some unethical voyeurism. A crazy running race on a catwalk for and with dozens of models trying to exhibit the most provocative underwear, socks or ties so fast that you could not see any shape, any form, any skin, just a sort of whirling merry-go-round whirlwind of colors and sounds but with no flesh to wear them, no bones to construct an architecture with, just the slightly onanistic pleasure of beating your ears with both hands and expecting the birth of the new Messiah that is to bring the second coming of some apocalypse. Gosh, this Kissin is apocalyptic to the point of frightening you out of your own shoes and socks directly into some black hole beyond the moon. And it all ends up in the last but longer variation, bathing with naiads and fawns in some wild mountain river far-far-away-from-home.
To conclude the first CD, Piano Sonata N° 14, in C sharp minor “Moonlight” op. 27/2 is so famous that we are afraid of going to sleep on it before it starts as if it were a lullaby. So what is Kissin going to do with it, this ecstatix amphetamine of a pianist? The opening adagio is so sad, so even mournful that we may think the end of life has been reached and the moon is shining on an immense cemetery just after the foolish humanity we are has eradicated all life with the Trump-card of a nuclear war, just for fun of boasting about a red button bigger than another, like a teenager in the school toilets comparing their magic wands before they finally learn it is not only for urination. No life left, no future possible, no past left either since the past only exists in our memory and we are no longer there. The moon can cast its sad light and its side-looks on what’s left of us but that will not bring anything back. We have been annihilated by a pair of idiots for the fun of their vanity. Kissin expresses that so strongly with Beethoven’s music that we would like to die right now for that sadness to come to an end because life is nothing when we are no longer there to see it, to hear it, to taste it. Let’s go and get the rope, throw it over the main beam of the attic and . . . A little whirling trio comes to dare us and mock us since we were so naïve to believe the moonlike sadness of this first movement. Mock, make fun, play the Mickey out of the clowns we have been, we are, we will always be. Kissin reaches some reasonable tone like a teacher telling two schoolboys who have had a fight how irrational it was and how painful it is going to be for them due to their wounds, the healing of them and the punishment the whole school is going to impose onto them. Not to speak of the fury and the fire of the fathers that are going to rain hard and hot and burning onto the two boys from their fathers tonight or tomorrow, when the doctors will declare the boys healed. And they will get a second week in hospital to crown it all. Beautiful spanking of the two trump-unwise hardly pubescent teenagers that have not yet poured their first map of France and are playing with nuclear weapons as if it were some Christmas chocolate or Easter eggs. The rabbit and the hare will have to be captured and cooked in a big pot together. Thank you Kissin, the chastiser of all those morons who would like to be Charon on his boat on the Lethe river descending into Hades and hell and taking the whole humanity with them. Childish, infantile, ridiculous, absurd, unfit for life actually. Kissin the great Doomsday supreme executioner of this apocalypse.
The second CD gives three sonatas.
First of all, Piano Sonata N° 23 in F minor “Appassionata” op. 57. The first movement rings many bells or rather tolling bells in you with some rhythm we recognize like the four notes of the fifth symphony, not quite exactly the same, especially the last one slightly higher, but…But from there Kissin jumps into the passionate fury of someone who wants to get something, who is moved by some dark plotting intention, impulse or desire but he may explode as much as he likes he won’t get it. Because there is another force in this passion that is so powerful and destructive that he ends up in smithereens. One can listen to one’s passion but that will never lead to happiness, stability, satisfaction. Kissin is so easily shifting from mild and somber to violent and brutal, back and forth with a melodious sentence coming back and back again always in a new mood, in a new color, in a new tempo and temper. To write a love story with anyone or for anything is as easy as it is impossible. Easy to court that person or this thing into listening and even liking you but that will never go through because the passion will take over and brutally end it up. And the deadly four notes of this fate that makes life impossible because passion is death and death is passion can recur a couple of times.
The second movement has to be a lot slower and darker if not somber. We can go down into the pit — and its pendulum — or the grave — and its tomb stone on top — step after step, gravely down into it, benighted as it is with foul deadly and morbid thoughts springing from the tolling left hand of the piano. How can such black night in the music lead to something else but a tomb and god’s eyes watching Cain in his crime and punishment. The passion of the first movement is leading to an entombment in the second movement. This poor enamored person that did not get anything he wanted and is so close to despair and even death, a slow and cruel death mind you, is rocking his burning heart to sleep, rocking its or his passion to sleep, or at least to slumber. Come on my heart let me live some more. But there is no respite, no rest, not intermission for the passionate lover, nothing but the torturing passion in him that cannot even accept to rest for five minutes after its defeat.
And the tolling left hand is back again. And it explodes into another allegro. The beast has been released again and this time for good. It starts spinning like a crazy top on a burning oven. It turns left. It turns right. It turns upside down. It turns downside up. It turns backward and forward, and even catty corners. Turn, passion, turn like a diabolical merry-go-round, and you will not catch the prey of your predating passion. It sounds in 1805 so much like the full deception of a man who had believed in the possible regeneration of the old world with the French Revolution, with Buonaparte, but the revolutionary passion had turned into a satisfied and war-mongering empire and Buonaparte had become Napoleon. The fire of the revolution was contained, locked up in our passions and curbed down into an inexpressible forceful fury that cannot in any way come out and dance in the main square. The feast is finished. Good night, Liberty, Fraternity and Equality. All that is the past and we can only go on dreaming about it in an empire that only speaks of Glory, War and Conquest. But maybe there might be some hope in the belief of the cyclicality of such passions and passionate ideas. Let’s start it all over again, if we still can.
The next Piano Sonata N° 26 in E flat major “Les Adieux” op. 81a has three movements that are the whole program of romantic love. “The Farewell,” first; “The Absence,” second; and “The Return,” last. Trinity of love satisfied, dissatisfied and satisfied again. You can cry, you can scream, you can moan and suffer as much as you want, the departure will take place. Better get up to it and accept it. But the music is an eternal departure and return with violence, some pause and some violence again. It is so Sturm und Drang that we kind of believe it is nothing but natural. Storm in gales of wind, rain and successive pockets of exploding thunderous violence, and reckless drive in that impulse that makes you jump at what you want and yet makes you flatten yourself on the ground in the mud where you end up over and over again when your prey escapes your passion, your love. You do not love for love and peace and calm. You love because of the storm it drives into your brain and the drive it storms up into your hormones. Rational is the opposite of this romanticism.
The second movement then is the slowly expanding obsolescence, and dissatisfaction, and frustration you try to ponder upon, you try to conquer and tame, uselessly of course because there is no taming the wild beast of the absence of the loved and desired one. The dragon is more dangerous when absent than present. You can fight against a present dragon in front of you, but you cannot fight against an absence, a void, an emptiness that uproots your heart out of any soil of any sort and kind. After this slow decomposition, with the promise of the return, maybe, that keeps some sense in this insane situation, luckily that return comes when Kissin reaches the tip end of nothingness.
And then the passion is revived, the passion is regenerated, the passion is salvaged from the churchyard of the mind and brought back to life and to the front, out towards the object of this passion. You can hear the joy of the mind, the second life of the spirit, the new energy of the body in every single note, particularly the notes that are tied up together in long lines of pearls around your naked neck, around your bare breast and on your chaste and clashing chest. There is something insane but so joyful in this return that we just wonder if the child has not taken over in the man, if the baby seeing his mother coming back to him after he has cried for quite a few minutes is not the victor of this battle against the absence of the nurturer: the joy, the pleasure, the bliss of the satisfaction of his desire, his thirst, his hunger. This romantic love turns men into infants in a crib. A man in love is forever a newborn in a world that he feels hostile except when the mother, the female caretaker appears with what he has been calling for all the time and more minute after minute. In the end is there any satisfaction in sucking the offered breast, in possessing this breast, at last, if that intermittent service can be called possession.
Piano Sonata N° 32 in C minor op. 111 opens like a dirge dedicated to the defeat the whole life of the composer was in his eyes now he is closer to death than ever. A dirge, a tolling tenebrae, a dying hope that there might be some more life after all, but the certainty that life has to come to an end, even if you do not hear it at all in your ears, but you sure hear it in your mind and brain. And it is here we can imagine Beethoven was hearing the modern version of his piano forte, a modern version that made his old piano forte so weak that even a cat would be ashame if it were told it is a lion. A lion, you said? Mind you that lion has no mane, no claws, no teeth. But Beethoven heard his piano forte with the teeth, the claws and the mane of the modern piano and you can hear it too. Under the fingers and the feet of Evgeny Kissin. He is galloping like some stampeding herd of wild horses across the keyboard as if it were a race track or probably a trail in some wild forest or plain swept by some strong wind and the blizzard of some hard winter. The gallop is always coming back over and over again, eternally in this vast plain of the deaf composer’s mind.
That’s why the andante that comes after this stampeding quest is like the song you sing to babies, the lullabies you sing to dead people when they are lowered into their tombs. Slow and dark, sad and somber and yet each note is powerful with reverberation and with some strength that comes from the pianist. He wants to make the long, very long lament that never comes to the peace of a final note, a final tonal note that would conclude the elegy. You may, the dead person may remember in his blank post mortem state some good feelings, some fine moments, and yet that is only an impression, a passing illusion probably because what is left after death, apart from the memory of the survivors, is just plain nothing. But strangely enough there is some peace and if there is some peace there is also some possible reconciliation with life, some forgiveness for this untimely death. Forgive this egotistic death and you may survive a little bit longer in the mind of the people you leave behind, because they are left behind while you continue your voyage to the promised land. Listen to the nearly dancelike and happy music along that way to whatever promised land you are walking to. Suddenly a wave of strong joyful probably diabolical and very nervous music turns up around a street corner in this messianic Jerusalem that you are trying to reach. Listen to it and go fast to that messianic city. The joy is in you. The music is in you. In fact, you cannot hear any music around you. You are deaf to the real human world, but you can hear the music of the heavens and of the salvation beyond the apocalypse of your death. Yet some realism brings you back to the dirge that accompanies you in your coffin, the dirge of the survivors. But you escape the temptation to be reduced to the corpse they are burying. You are a lot more than that. Follow the light and high pitched melody that leads you to beyond the dirge that alas comes back. Will you ever reach your paradise, your new home? Not as long as the grieving and drunk relatives who are taking you to your grave precociously rejoicing in the opening of your will after this sad moment. Forget about it, forgive them, they don’t know what they are doing. And some vigor comes back to you. Are you going to survive your own death in your own mind and eyes? Or will the earth that will be piled up onto your casket close the door to any future whatsoever. You doubt one way or the other, don’t you? Kissin then sounds as if he were the musician of the cosmos trying to make you realize that death is a big black hole full of anti-matter, powerful anti-matter that no one can even describe. Yes, you will be alive there and one day, human beings might be able to reach you again in some Space Odyssey that is not planned any time soon though. It becomes as beautiful as the northern lights of some Aurora Borealis right at noon under the equator and you have to fall to your knees to thank the universe for this beauty — even if you have to die to finally experience it. Divine Kissin is kissing divine.
Dr. Jacques COULARDEAU