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After the 13-year-old Evgeny Kissin’s performance of Chopin’s concertos was broadcast on the radio, Russia buzzed with talk about the new child prodigy. It took an intervention by the American professor Daniel Pollack to set things straight: ‘Despite the fact that this boy is truly unusual, the words “child prodigy” do not fit him at all.’ His art had already reached a mastery to compare with that of world-famous pianists.

Kissin’s art was indeed God-given, as was demonstrated when he played at the music festival December Nights in 1985. Sviatoslav Richter had decreed that Kissin should be roped in for a concert at the Pushkin State Museum, and after Richter’s all-Chopin recital the 14-year-old Kissin took the stage to give one of his own. This is the first time it has been issued on CD. The sound quality is variable, and there are a few fluffs from Kissin, but the whole is still treasurable.

Kissin brings grave authority to the Fantasie, and his interpretation is at some points strikingly unconventional; he lingers here and there to highlight flowers which normally blush unseen. His approach to the Mazurkas has poetic charm, with delicate shading and rubato, the contrast between playful and forceful touches skilfully deployed. Op 63/1 has whip-cracking, heel-clicking energy, Op 24/4 purveys a sweetly persuasive melancholy.

‘Unhurried grace’ is the phrase that best describes Kissin’s approach: he sounds completely relaxed, a master already at ease with his art.

MICHAEL CHURCH Read the full review on Agora Classica

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