Evgeny Kissin will turn forty next year! It's hard to forget the frowzy-haired ten-year-old prodigy, or to totally believe that his best phase ended around ten years ago. The latter-day Kissin still wows audiences, and his technique remains superlative, with grandeur, power, and fleetness combined seamlessly. Yet his most recent phase, as he shifted labels from RCA/BMG to EMI, shows a tendency toward conventionality. His Beethoven concerto cycle was a mixed bag, perhaps because he was paired with the octogenarian Colin Davis, and I wonder if I overpraised their first collaboration in Mozart. My love for Kissin makes it hard to see him anywhere but at the summit.
In order to love this pairing, first dark, then light, of the D minor Concerto K. 466 and the B-flat major K. 595, you have to renounce any shred of period style. This is romantic Mozart, with a foretaste of Beethoven implied in the D minor. Colin Davis is here replaced by Kisisn conducting the Kremerata Baltica from the keyboard; although a chamber group, they play as symphonically as Kissin could wish for. The pianist uses rubato fairly discreetly, and his tone is scaled down except for big outbursts. Beethoven's long cadenza is played in improvisatory fashion, with the emphasis on Beethoven rather than Mozart -- it's very impressive. If you can adjust, the whole reading is more than satisfying on its own terms. The only distressing part is the tubby, bottom-heavy recording; the piano is also a bit distant and dull.
I suppose one could say that K. 595 is Figaro to the Don Giovanni of K. 466. Kissin adheres to his robust but loving approach. In the extended orchestral introduction he proves as adept leading from the keyboard as the young Perahia and, more recently, Pollini; of the three, he has the most personality. Mozart's final piano concerto doesn't find the composer as playful as he often is in the major keys; it sparkles but with undertones of melancholy. I was on the verge of underpraising this CD, but in the slow movement of K. 595 Kissin's grasp of both the solo and orchestral parts is quite impressive. He evokes joy in the finale without making it scamper across the field on tiptoe. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed Kissin in his new double role, and I relish the implicit poke in the eye to anemic period Mozart playing. Back to the future, indeed.