Notes and Editorial Reviews
SCHUMANN Kinderszenen. DEBUSSY Children’s Corner. MUSSORGSKY Pictures at an Exhibition • Sergei Kvitko (pn) • BLUE GRIFFIN 169 (72:44)
Sergei Kvitko has been quite vocal over the reality that these are not the performances of a practicing concert pianist. Some liberties are taken, he warns us in advance. Please don’t listen to this CD with the score sprawled across your lap, he intimates. I would suggest that this pre-emptive defensiveness is not at all necessary. Kvitko may not be performing publicly these days, but he is no amateur. This is masterful, intuitive playing, albeit not without some interesting quirks. His program is united by a pianism that embraces the instrument as an ensemble of strings, as opposed to a row of
hammers. You almost never hear the front of the attack; everything has a plangent profile and a cantabile momentum. Perhaps the most arresting artistry occurs in the quiet, slower moments in the Schumann, where Kvitko finds profound poetry. He is never in a rush, and so his “Golliwogg’s Cakewalk” is almost a slow dance, and the cattle cart in Mussorgsky’s “Bydlo” lumbers as lugubriously as I have ever heard it. This is an interpretive choice, not a safe one. When the material calls for alacrity and tension, such as in the mad rush to the “Great Gates of Kiev,” Kvitko delivers. There is, elsewhere, an iconoclastic sense for rubato rhythm and phrasing, but never in a self-serving way. Kvitko loves the music more than he loves himself.
The missing element in Kvitko’s stylistic arsenal is electricity. It is a trade off. You are not going to get the edge-of-the-seat tension of, say, Richter in the Mussorgsky here. That is the stuff of legend, big and brassy. Kvitko is more of a salon performer, playing before a small but focused audience that just wants to hear great music encountered by a serious and practiced performer. At the risk of revealing my weaknesses, I would conjure a metaphor from the world of fine wine. There are countless sensational, often very expensive quaffs out there that reap the attention of the cognoscenti, but then there are the behind-the-headline vintners who consistently produce the kinds of wine that you can curl up with for a pleasant evening. Kvitko is such a bottle of wine.
FANFARE: PETER BURWASSER
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