They just played in Madrid on consecutive days two large, two giants of the modern piano. They have done it, however, in two very different moments of their careers. One, the Italian Maurizio Pollini, in what seems his irremediable decline; another, the Russian Yevgueni Kissin, in his dazzling splendor. There is, therefore, no possible comparison, because it would not be fair. Chance has even wanted that in the programs of one and the other some works were repeated, but, even so, we must flee from the temptation to put them in one and another dish of the same scale. And the best news of this conjunction has been that in both recitals the Symphony Hall of the National Auditorium was full to overflow, a rarity more and more difficult to achieve, reinforced with the presence of some additional chairs on stage in the recital of the Russian pianist .
As usual, Pollini traveled to Madrid with his own piano and, apparently, with his own stool. Even so, between work and work, he did not stop adjusting the height of the latter: he was clearly uncomfortable. Very old and fragile for his age, in this final stretch of his artistic career there has been a double phenomenon: his virtues of yesteryear have abated, while the possible deficiencies have been magnified. The most striking thing is that it is difficult to recognize the Italian in the sound it produces, since its Steinway sounds like disembodied, disembodied, just a shell of what it was. Of the Chopin pieces that he played in the first part, he only had some interest Berceuse, smooth and well phrased, although the left hand barely exerted a counterweight to the melodic line. There was, in general, much embarrassment, little clarity, very fleeting and almost nonexistent silences, small lapses of memory, routine, coldness.
Works by Chopin and Debussy. Maurizio Pollini (piano). Works by Chopin, Schumann, Debussy and Skriabin. Yevgueni Kissin (piano). National Auditorium, February 11 and 12.
In the first book of Preludes from Debussy things got worse. He is not the French composer, except perhaps for the Studies, the one most akin to the interpretative personality of Pollini, but the 12e masterpieces that make up the collection passed without pain or glory. They were readings, as a rule, precursory, flat, gray, with abrupt transitions, without humor, without grace, without mystery, a succession of notes almost always lacking in meaning, depth, weight and direction. Perhaps the best of the 12 preludes was Des pas sur la neige, at least structured with the sharp architectural sense that has always characterized the Italian, probably inherited from his father Gino.
Any cheers are few to applaud the Pollini he was, a pianist who has displayed a rare balance between a gifted head and omnipotent fingers, but the current Pollini, or at least the one who played in Madrid on Monday, is a distant shadow of that artist. The audience applauded with warmth and admiration the legend and the Italian was generous, and intrepid, in the two tips he played out of program, now reversing the previous order of both authors: Feux d'artifice, the last prelude to Debussy's second book, and the Studio op. 25 no. eleven of Chopin. He arrived at both pieces very tired, with just forces, or less than just, but managed to conclude one and the other pulling on his trade.
When, the next day, Yevgueni Kissin put his hands on the piano and started playing the Night op. 55 no. one of Chopin, it became clear that we were going to attend a historical recital. He did not pay much attention to the Russian of the Polish composer's indication (Walking) and played it infinitely slower, delighting in each note and advancing very slowly, with a tempo permanently flexible, until it is actually installed in a Walking in the final section. It was clear that Kissin had not chosen this relatively simple piece to heat engines: in just over five minutes he had made us touch the sky. And the most extraordinary thing was that this same level remained unchanged until the end, without ups and downs, with constant prodigies, with maximum concentration, with an almost incomprehensible mastery of the instrument, which magnifies its possibilities under his fingers. For Kissin there is not a single accessory or secondary note: each and every one of them is heard, and all of them fulfill their function and give meaning to the whole. Hands always dialogue (ineffably in the Night op. 62 no. two, which we had also heard the previous day) and the ornaments are integrated into the phrasing as if they were a constitutive and essential element, not merely decorative, of the phrase.
Very few pianists play in public the Sonata no. 3 of Schumann, a "concert without orchestra" technically very demanding and without the formal perfection that characterizes the first piano works of the German. Kissin has always felt a strong affinity for the Schumannian world: already in his recital of presentation at Carnegie Hall in 1990 he played, with 18 years, irresistible versions of the Abegg Variations and the Symphonic studies. He is also an unparalleled interpreter of the Fantasy op. 17 and now he has shown that the Sonata no. 3, in his hands, is also a composition worthy of being heard on equal terms with his colleagues.
Kissin opted for the second edition of the score (the one that inverts the order of the central movements) and everything in its version pointed to the contrapositions that define Schumann's language: order and disorder, classicism and fantasy, balance and disproportion, introversion and extraversion. The four variations on a theme of Clara Wieck were a miracle, concluded by a progressive downward regulator in the simple chords of the final six measures performed in such a way that, although it went unnoticed by many, was one of the greatest piano portents of the afternoon . The last movement, in short, in which the indication Presto possibile is followed, in a runaway race, by those of Vivacissimo Y Più prestoIt was, in effect, an indefatigable but crystal clear ride towards the luminous conclusion in F major.
The Debussy of Yevgueni Kissin was a mystery, since he is a composer who has barely frequented in his three long decades of career. In an unusual decision, he chose to play six Preludes of the first book and two of the second, forming a very well balanced and balanced sequence. And if anyone could have entertained any doubt about the affinity of the Russian with this repertoire, they were all dissipated from the first bars of Danseuses of Delphes. Many memorable moments could be mentioned, such as the slow final ascent towards the conclusive chords of The fille aux cheveux de lin, the clear pulsation of Les collines d'Anacapri or the supernatural rhythmic precision and the multicolored verve of Feux d'artifice, but it would be unfair not to leave a special record of the best sound and conceptual translation of The Cathédrale engloutie never heard, with its end ruined by a brutal, irreverent mobile and deserving of eternal punishment. It would be enough the interpretation we hear of this music "profusely calme (dans une brume doucement sonore) ", Debussy dixit, to consecrate Yevgueni Kissin as one of the best pianists in history.
The brief but intense Sonata no. 4 of Skriabin (this yes, a well-known specialty of his compatriot) put an end to a recital of a uniformly superlative quality. Kissin was transmuted here into a comet to interpret the second movement, marked Prestissimo flying, which closed with an overwhelming succession of ascending chords on the black keys to rivet the bright F sharp greater conclusive. I would have done very well Kissin to play just the first two of the four tips he offered: Träumerei of Schumann and Gollywogg's Cakewalk of Debussy, two pieces included in different children's collections. The Russian retains something, or much, of the child he was, with those naive gaits and that strange way of greeting, populated with tics. Ibermúsica has been giving us recitals since 1988 and, although both in this and in his previous visit the beneficial influence of his recent marriage is evident, in this happy adult and more and more humanized and less automaton are still identifiable many features of that boy with curly hair and deep look that amazed the world (including the last Karajan, who fell exhausted before his huge talent).
Generous as Pollini the day before, Kissin left the world of children to continue thanking the enthusiasm samples of the public, more and more loud, and his third gift was the Waltz op. 34 no. one of Chopin, touched this time in a somewhat mechanistic and a little past of revolutions. He said goodbye with a composition of his own, a Dodecaphonic Tango that it has much more of the first than of the second and that allowed us to glimpse minimally inside his mind. Having and retaining are two key verbs in the races, as a rule very long, of the great pianists. I hope I can continue playing Yevgueni Kissin at this unattainable level for many years. Thanks to him and to Maurizio Pollini, Madrid has been for two days the capital of the piano: past, present and future.