Classical Concert Review: Pianist Evgeny Kissin — An Intuitive Majesty

By Susan Miron

From beginning to end, this was a magical concert: beauty, poetry, and yes, unbelievable chops.

Pianist Evgeny Kissin. Photo: courtesy of the artist.

Pianist Evgeny Kissin first wowed the public decades ago as a child prodigy in Russia and then became an international star as a teenager. The fact is, there is simply no one else like him. ( I would pay good money to hear him play “Chopsticks.”). Now 51, he thrilled a packed audience last Sunday at Symphony Hall (presented by the Celebrity Series of Boston). He last appeared as solo pianist here in 2014, which made this the season’s most important piano recital.

Many (of us) have followed Kissin for decades and we treasure our memories of his performances. I first heard him live at a close friend’s memorial 25 years ago. I was transported into a world of poignant beauty when he played J.S. Bach/ F. Busoni’s Adagio (Kissin performance on on You Tube) His Bach was stately yet electrifying then, so I was hardly surprised that I was once again mesmerized hearing him play Bach’s famous Chromatic Fantasia and Fugue, BWV 903, a terrific if unusual program opener. Thickets of arpeggios abounded in a rendition that sounded as if a gifted keyboard artist was gaily improvising.

Kissin chose Mozart’s Sonata in D,K 311, one of the lesser-known of his piano sonatas. What a revelation! He played Mozart as great Mozartians do — with charm, grace, musical intelligence, and just the right tempi and touch. The clarity of his playing and voicing was revelatory, but at the service of making this overlooked piece shine with commanding brilliance. Next was Chopin, a composer for whom Kissin has become a renowned interpreter. The pianist’s version of the 11-minute long Polonaise in F# minor, Op. 44, (composed between 1840-41) was unsurprisingly sensational. His musical wizardly was on complete display, at the service of making listeners fall in love with Chopin — technique to die for and a mighty left hand. (Kissin performance on You Tube)

The audience, utterly silent during both halves of the concert (not one cough), erupted at the end of this piece with a lengthy — and uproarious — standing ovation.

The second half was devoted to short pieces by Sergei Rachmaninoff. There is no pianist I would rather hear playing this music (decades ago Kissin recorded the Russian composer’s well-known Concerto No.3 with the Ozawa and the BSO, a splendid performance with heavenly encores of two Rachmaninoff short pieces). Rachmaninoff was a fabulous pianist, so most of his compositions for piano are virtuoso vehicles. Kissin plays this music with an intuitive majesty. He delivered a magisterial account of Romance Op. 21, No. 5, “Lilacs,” Prelude in A minor, Op. 32, no. 8 (from Rachmaninoff’s second set of preludes), Prelude in G-flat Major, Op. 23, no. 10, and five fiendishly difficult selections (ranging from the tender to the volcanic) from Études-Tableaux, op. 39. I don’t recall these Études appearing on any of the hundreds of concerts I’ve reviewed. I was thrilled to make their acquaintance, especially given Kissin’s tour de force handling. If you are a Rachmaninoff fan, these jaw-droppers are well worth taking in. (Kissin performance on YouTube) But my favorite Rachmaninoff pieces were the three encores, “Melodie,” Serenade,” and the famous “Prelude in C-Sharp Minor.” From beginning to end, this was a magical concert: beauty, poetry, and yes, unbelievable chops.

Susan Miron, a harpist, has been a book reviewer for over 30 years for a large variety of literary publications and newspapers. Her fields of expertise were East and Central European, Irish, and Israeli literature. Susan covers classical music for the Arts Fuse and the Boston Musical Intelligencer.


  1. George Gallegos on April 30, 2023 at 1:44 am

    Yes, Evginny Kissin has impressed me and many others with his performances for many years! Recently I have become enthralled with a young Japanese pianist, Nobuyuki Tsujii, who play’s Rachmaninov, Beethoven, Chopin, Debussy, Tchaikovsky, and many other major composers all while being completely blind! I have never heard a pianist play with such technical skill and passion! I’ve heard people say, “what he can’t see with his eyes he sees with his soul!” If you get a chance look him up on You Tube! You will not be disappointed! I have been a pianist for over 60 years and I stand by what I say!

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