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 Scott Noriega
One of the tenets of Phillip Kawin's teaching is that sound production is key to great piano playing. I remember him always cautioning about attacking the keyboard. For him, one should rather caress the sound out of the instrument: pull—never push. For him the piano, though physically a percussion instrument, should never be treated as such. In his conversation with David Dubal on one of the later tracks of the CD, he talks about Richter's approach to Prokofiev's Seventh Sonata, saying the Russian pianist "makes the accents" in this work "so lyrical and many times lighter." All these years later, it is good to see that what he taught in his lessons is still one of the hallmarks of his playing, perhaps especially in some of the chosen repertoire featured here.
Beginning with Beethoven's rarely-played Variations on God Save the King, Kawin is quick to set the solemn mood of the theme, with his super-smooth legato, exquisite voicing, and walking tempo. The variations which follow are lively and energetic in character, with crisp articulation and just the right touch of playfulness. What I miss here, though, are slightly more energetic accents (the sfs found throughout this piece fall slightly flat) and a more consistent sense of pulse throughout the entire work. While each variation is beautifully played, collectively they often feel more like separate bagatelles than as part of a unified work. But there is hardly a thing to say about Kawin's Schumann, so magical are these pieces in his hands. One can tell that the pianist loves these works, so tenderly are they performed—perhaps especially "Des Abends," with its beautifully shaped melody which floats above the gentle cushioning of the arpeggiated accompaniment. They are played so well that one wishes he offered more than just two of the eight Fantasiestücke, op. 12.
The following Beethoven Sonata, one of the composer's most dramatic edifices, is well played though a bit tame in my book. Where both Richter and Serkin brought a nervous energy, and an almost frantic or even manic approach to this music, Kawin seems to find more of the Classical side of this composer here than the burgeoning Romantic. But where he holds himself back in the Beethoven, he seems completely to let himself go in the Prokofiev. It is the climax of this recital. From the quirky and playful though treacherously difficult Allegro inquieto, through the melancholic Andante caloroso, and finally to the excitement of the Precipitato (replete with its odd rhythmic gestures, massive chords, and unrelenting energy), Kawin shows himself the ideal guide to this music. The Schumann-Liszt Widmung makes for a fine encore, again highlighting the pianist's fine singing line.
Though a good portion of the disc's timing (about 20 minutes) is given over to the conversation between David Dubal and the pianist, there is more than enough devoted to the real treat of this disc, the recital proper. For those interested in the conversation itself, significant portions of it are printed in the accompanying booklet, though it is unfortunately devoid of any details regarding the music performed. But despite this lack, it too offers something in return: an insight into the approach that Kawin favors with much of this music and some of his background history as well, giving the listener a better understanding of his ideas—he was, for example, a pupil of Dora Zaslavsky, an assistant to none other than Harold Bauer at the Manhattan School of Music. But in the end it's the playing that counts—and in that regard this is a disc to savor. Scott Noriega
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