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 Dave Saemann
Phillip Kawin is a most accomplished performer. A distinguished teacher, I would recommend his YouTube video showing him leading a student through the nuances of a Haydn sonata. Kawin here reveals that he is someone for whom every note of a score possesses a stylistic meaning. Although Kawin says that teaching and performing are two quite disparate activities, I suspect that the act of pedagogy has helped him clarify his ideas about the music he offers the public. A Steinway artist, Kawin seems to be very particular about what he wants from an instrument for each performance. The Steinway on this CD possesses a responsiveness and voicing of rare beauty in my experience. Piano technician Ron Coners clearly has done yeoman's duty to satisfy his artist. This brings out one of the notable qualities of Kawin's playing: He hears better than most other pianists. His concern for the color and shape of phrases leads him to a great variety of touch, in which few pianists exceed him; his pedaling also breathes. Consequently Kawin's playing exhibits a fluidity that is quite uncommon. Never is a work's architecture slighted, but one feels that Kawin arrives at illuminating structure in the most natural and unhackneyed way imaginable. His tone is wonderfully rounded, even in the truly finger-busting moments of the Beethoven and Prokofiev Sonatas herein. Indeed, this CD has such pianistic life that it feels less like a recording than like the live recital it is designed to resemble.
Right from the start of Beethoven's God Save the King Variations, you hear Kawin's gorgeous, singing tone. The finger work in this piece is delectable, and you always sense Beethoven's wit. The fifth variation is touching in its warmth. Of the two selections from Schumann's Fantasiestücke, "Des Abends" is played with the most delicate hues, as if a couple is sitting by a window at night, lit by a single candle. In "Warum?" (Why?), Schumann asks cosmic questions with just a breath of sound. My favorite recording of the complete Fantasiestücke is Daniela Ruso's. Kawin's "Appassionata" Sonata is one of the best I've heard. In the opening movement, the sound quality of the piano is so remarkable that it is less like a percussion instrument than like a guitar being strummed. Instead of the movement's passion being torn to tatters, Kawin reveals it as if it were an inner compulsion. His slow movement reminds me of someone laughing through tears. Kawin's pacing in the concluding movement is beautiful, permitting every note to make its full impact amid the tumult. I also like hearing the "Appassionata" on fortepiano. There are excellent historically informed recordings by Anthony Newman and Melvyn Tan. Kawin regards Prokofiev's Seventh Sonata as his signature piece. Its opening Allegro inquieto here is a wonderful mixture of irony and a peculiarly Russian wistfulness. The Andante caloroso looks ahead to the Seventh Symphony's slow movement in its emotional gentleness. Kawin's rendition of the last movement is unusual in its elucidation of Prokofiev's counterpoint.
The Schumann/Liszt Widmung that ends Kawin's program is a Romantic effusion in the grand style. I would urge you to hear Kawin's YouTube version of the piece, which may be even better. Veteran producer Steven Epstein has secured a recording of the piano that is warm and rounded. Phillip Kawin, having reached his 30th year as a teacher, clearly has much to say as a performer. This recital is the work of an artist who feels deeply and commands his instrument with authority. Highly recommended. Dave Saemann
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