In a city where one of our most famous landmarks is a bronze statue of Glenn Gould on Front St., you can safely say Toronto knows a good pianist when it hears one. So when a soloist the calibre of Evgeny Kissin meets the bated breath and enthusiasm of a packed Roy Thomson Hall, it says something profound.
The last time Kissin was in Toronto was back in 2012, performing Edvard Grieg’s “Piano Concerto” with the TSO under conductor laureate Sir Andrew Davis. It was a well-received show but left many yearning for Kissin’s more intimate solo repertoire.
The program began with the opening allegro from Beethoven’s “Waldstein” sonata, which was reserved and spoke between the lines. The proceeding adagio was smooth with focused phrasing. The spry rondo was full of wild twists and led seamlessly towards a brilliant finish.
Prokofiev’s “Fourth Sonata” proved to be an effective foe against the Beethoven. It’s a criminally underperformed work and, for all its Russian dissonance, suited Kissin like an old glove. The allegro’s low register grumbled under the gymnastics of the melodic material. The andante crept forward over the gloomy C-minor landscape. The final allegro, which contains lyrical moments reminiscent of a Rachmaninov’s Études-tableaux, was lively and played with pristine technique. Woven into Kissin’s inner world, Prokofiev left him floating onstage like a musical apparition.
After an intermission came a slightly odd set of mostly minor key Chopin nocturnes and mazurkas. They were played in Kissin’s typically emotive manner, which wavered between intense bombast and silken tenderness.
The finale was Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody, the “Rakoczy March,” and left the Steinway in a pile of beaten brushwood on stage. As one of Kissin’s go-to composers, the work growled in a blur of tough-knuckled chords played with a clear destination towards their climaxes. The evening ended with repeated encores and standing O’s that went on well into the night.