Stories » Evgeny Kissin set to release first solo recording in a decade / The Economist

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Evgeny Kissin set to release first solo recording in a decade / The Economist

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Evgeny Kissin is the world's most acclaimed classical pianist. He is set to release his first solo recording in a decade which shows how his playing has matured. Kissin has written an autobiography. He has also married a childhood friend and is about to release his first recording for a decade. A European tour will fill the coming months. "I want people to know who I am," he told a BBC interviewer last month. That remark was about reciting his own poetry in Yiddish, but it implied something more general: the image of the wild-haired, baby-faced Wunderkind who had to be defended from hordes of female fans no longer applies. Mr Kissin is now an imposing 45-year-old who needs no help in fighting his professional corner, or in publicly championing the Israeli state whose citizenship he recently accepted, in addition to the British one he got thanks to a family connection in 2002.

In his 40s, however, Mr Kissin has made an aesthetic breakthrough, with performances of Liszt tone-poems and late Beethoven sonatas which are revelatory in their sweep and authority. No matter how big or complex a work, he now has an unerring mastery both of the fine detail and the architecture. Beethoven's 32 "Variations in C minor" is a ferociously condensed work, presenting a unique aesthetic challenge. Mr Kissin turns each variation into a small explosion of rage, grotesquery or pathos, and moves repeatedly from a smoulder to a blaze and back again, with magical results. This will be one of the Beethoven works on the double-CD of live recordings which Deutsche Grammophon will release in August.

But Mr Kissin is still a pliant spirit. To watch him reverentially drinking in performances by his heroes, Grigory Sokolov and Martha Argerich, at the Verbier summer festival where he frequently performs with his Russian-virtuoso friends, is to realise that he is not above learning lessons. And he is a born entertainer, up for any post-recital fun that's going and able to deliver ragtime with the best of them; the blind American jazz pianist Art Tatum is another of his heroes.