Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin was a seasoned performer when he made his western debut at 16 - back home, he'd already been on the concert circuit for some years.

A stellar force in his teens and twenties, he gained the reputation of enfant terrible, with his own brand of almost possessed virtuosity caught for posterity in the film of his historic 1987 Tokyo recital.

Now 46, Kissin has weathered criticism in recent years for interpretations that can be disappointingly cold and clinical. Deutsche Grammophon has happy memories of the pianist in his prime, catching him in 1989 playing a dazzling Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto with Herbert von Karajan and the Berlin Philharmonic.

This year he returns to the label with one of his most eccentric releases ever. The new double album comprises live performances recorded between 2006 and 2016, presenting five Beethoven sonatas and the composer's mighty C minor Variations, in venues ranging from Seoul's Arts Centre to Vienna's Musikverein.


Deutsche Grammophon's publicity department has been relentlessly spinning hyperbole. We're told that these performances are of special significance to Kissin, but is this enough to atone for distinctly sub-par recordings, some even made by concert promoters, originally intended for archival purposes.

While the inescapable trajectory of the Variations will keep you on the edge of your seat, audience noise is a major irritant with the sonatas. So much so, that one might read Kissin's fiery outbursts in the finale of the Moonlight Sonata as an artist's justified reaction to the shuffles, coughs and other assorted noise that he and we endure during the previous movement.

Kissin has always expressed his preference for live recordings but this outing makes one long for a studio alternative to let the music speak unsmothered.


What: Evgeny Kissin: Beethoven (Deutsche Grammophon)
Rating: 3/5