Pianist Kenner displays exceptional gifts in music of Chopin and others

By Lawrence Budmen

Festival Miami and the Chopin Foundation presented an evening of “Chopin Reflections” Wednesday night, spotlighting Kevin Kenner, a major prizewinner at Warsaw’s Chopin International Piano Competition and Moscow’s Tchaikovsky Competition. Kenner combined music of Chopin and later composers whose works were influenced by the Polish master in an arresting program at Gusman Concert Hall. 

            Now a professor at the Royal College of Music in London, Kenner possesses a formidably strong technique and displays real idiomatic affinity for Chopin’s musical oeuvre. His liberal use of rubato is in the tradition of many pianists from the first half of the twentieth century. Kenner is also an expressive interpreter who brought tremendous emotional velocity to his varied program. 

            The pianist elicited fire as well as poetry from Chopin’s Nocturne in C-sharp minor, Op. 27, No.1. Kenner’s sensitive, light touch made the keyboard sing, proving anew that Chopin was the master of pianistic bel canto. Hardly lacking dynamism, his big-boned rendition of the famous Polonaise in A-flat managed to remove many of the artistic cobwebs and mannerisms that have settled around this music. In a bold display of virtuosity and rhythmic acceleration, the polonaise reemerged a bravura showpiece and enchanting vignette. 

            Kenner reveled in the tempest-tossed milieu of the Prelude No. 14 in D-sharp minor, emphasizing  extreme contrasts in dynamics . He took the Fantaisie-Impromptu at daredevil speed but imbued the central section with romantic ardor and passion. Kenner’s version of the Revolutionary Etude was a stunner, delivered in one long arc that connected the tempestuous to the heroic, avoiding all-too-common shallow display. While few pianists reach the august level of a Rubinstein or Argerich in this repertoire, Kenner is a Chopin interpreter of exceptional gifts, and such full blooded, dramatic, technically secure performances are extremely rare. 

            Kenner’s choice of corresponding repertoire was fascinating, unearthing some rarely played gems. The Nocturne No. 2 in B minor by Mily Balakirev (best known for his pianistic finger-breaker Islamey) was a darkly lyrical rhapsody, played with emotional restraint and lovely tonal coloration. The Peace Piece, a moody yet elegant score by jazz pianist Bill Evans, owes as much to Copland and Gershwin as Chopin. Kenner captured its distinctively American mood and aura.  

            Mazurka, Op. 50, No.2 by Karol Szymanowski was a refreshingly eccentric view of the Polish dance form. Opening with a Chopin like melody, the piece deconstructs the formula with tone clusters, acerbic progressions and rapid hand crossings, all of which Kenner dispensed like clockwork. Debussy’s charming Etude No.11 was played in an animated manner but needed greater impressionistic magic. Kenner’s performance was too coolly academic. . 

            Dream Images (Love-Death-Music) by American  octogenarian George Crumb was  typically eerie night music with shades of Bartok and thematic fragments from Chopin’s Fantaisie-Impromptu, softly enunciated and exquisitely rendered. The pianist’s note perfect, explosive version of the Etude in D-sharp minor by Alexander Scriabin was marked by such hard-driving intensity that the performance threatened to become unmoored. Kenner’s sense of musicality, however, never crossed  the line of artistic intelligence and taste, producing high drama amidst the pianistic fireworks.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Pianist Kenner displays exceptional gifts in music of Chopin and others”

  1. Posted Nov 05, 2009 at 9:30 am by Viga Gewert

    Thank you, Larry, for this wonderful review. We are very proud of him and follow his career closely. Kevin, with no doubts, belongs now to the best American pianists — it is only a pity that the US audience does not appreciate him adequately. In Europe and Japan he is adored!

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Thu Oct 29, 2009
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