PHILLIP KAWIN • Phillip Kawin (pn) • MASTER PERFORMERS DISTINGUISHED ARTISTS 001 (78:00) BEETHOVEN 7 Variations on God Save the King, WoO 78. Piano Sonata No. 23, "Appassionata". SCHUMANN Fantasiestücke, op. 12: Des Abends; Warum? PROKOFIEV Piano Sonata No. 7. SCHUMANN/LISZT Widmung & Conversation between David Dubal and Phillip Kawin on Beethoven, Prokofiev, and Schumann
By Colin Clarke
Recently (Fanfare 39:5), I reviewed Phillip Kawin's excellent Schubert release on which the A-Minor Sonata, D 845, was coupled with the D 946 Klavierstücke. The present disc is, in contrast, multi-composer, and is impeccably programmed.
Beginning with Beethoven's Variations on God Save the King is inspired. Although the booklet includes a David Dubal interview with Kawin (also transcribed onto the disc, where it is split into three parts—Beethoven, Schumann, Prokofiev), the interview concentrates on the "Appassionata." That's a shame, as Beethoven's variations deserve every ounce of attention that can be lavished on them (and not just the set on the present disc), and as if to reflect this Kawin's actual performance speaks of deep consideration. Resisting the temptation to stand up as the theme plays while mumbling, "It's Queen now, not King," means the listener can savor Kawin's delicious way with this well-known tune; one senses the potentialities of the theme, and that Beethoven's explorations will lead to new slants. And so they do, supremely delivered by Kawin: The pianist's fluid touch in Variation II, his sense of play in Variations III and VII, the way Kawin relishes Beethoven's gruff humor in Variation IV, and his melting into a delicious stream of notes that flows as inevitably as any brook in Variation V, all reflect perfectly Beethoven's journey through at least some of the theme's ramifications. Terrific.
Interestingly, Kawin's touch as he launches into "Des Abends" from Schumann's Fantasiestücke immediately transports us into a different musical dimension; Kawin's infinitely tender "Warum?" takes us still further into the heart of Romanticism. Careful listening puts the spotlight on Kawin's superb control of textures and layers. This is far more than an interlude between the two Beethoven pieces.
When asked in the accompanying booklet interview which are the great "Appassionata" performances on record, Kawin lists Richter ("very compelling") and Schnabel ("completely different"). Kawin differs from both, offering technical polish married to a superb grasp of the musical structure. He has the harmonic awareness of a Brendel, and is more aware of the beauties in Beethoven's writing than any of the listed pianists, putting him in that sense closer to late Arrau. Strangely, this underlines rather than undermines the drama; but whereas Arrau (at least in the late Royal Festival Hall performance I heard) gave the impression that the whole sonata leads slowly but inevitably towards the coda of the finale, Kawin is clearly hyper-aware of the peaks and troughs along the way. Kawin finds huge beauty in the central Andante con moto, opting not to destroy that beauty outright, as does Pollini, with the sudden gestures that herald the finale. Kawin's technique in this finale is simply staggering, and not in a barn-storming virtuoso way, either. Listen to the evenness of articulation of the 16th-notes, and of the actual touch he uses: The finger-strength is nowhere in doubt. More, Kawin's sense of rhythm is rock-solid. It is only when one hears a performance that has this that the sheer granitic grandeur of Beethoven's edifice really comes through.
Mention of Pollini above paves the way for Kawin's Prokofiev Seventh Sonata: By comparison to Pollini's famous DG account, Kawin finds more rhythmic dance in the first movement, and he is keen also to delineate the polyphony in the sonata. That characteristic bitter-sweet quality so characteristic of Prokofiev is wonderfully conveyed in the central movement, all the more effectively because of Kawin's restraint as he lets the harmonic and melodic twists and turns speak for themselves. The finale is another matter altogether: fast, breathless, impetuous. Kawin's end in a live performance would surely have people off their seats. An encore is the order of the day, and so it is that a tender, wistful account of the Schumann/Liszt Widmung finds Kawin with a true cantabile, particularly with the middle-register statements of the theme. Liszt's characteristic decorations up and down the keyboard hold no sense of the hackneyed; rather, the performance rises to a natural climax, ebbing towards a beautifully shaped final upward arpeggiation.
The recording has astonishing presence and clarity, while Kawin's Steinway is clearly expertly prepared. This is a fine prequel to Kawin's Schubert. Colin Clarke
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