A Magical Tone Which Animates
Frankfurter Neue Presse, Ulrich Boller
American pianist and Chopin prizewinner Kevin Kenner provided an exquisite musical experience at the “Chopiniade”
Twenty-two years ago Kevin Kenner won the Warsaw Chopin Competition. Shortly thereafter the American performed the master’s 1st Piano Concerto at the Jahrhunderthalle. Since then he has been a regular guest in the region, in Oberursel for the third time. In this exceptionally colourful program, Kenner concentrated above all on the concert form which Chopin considerably developed, the Prelude. The group of 24 small to medium sized pieces Opus 28: They are indeed called preludes, but are not followed by any fugue, variation or song. Each creates for itself a microcosmos, adopting elements from other forms like, for instance, the Mazurka, the Nocturne, the Etude, the Funeral March. Despite all the variety of character which Kenner masterly brought to expression, there was no impression of fraying, nor of random juxtapositions. The pianist enabled the individual pieces to tie them together into a richly faceted overall picture. Kenner not only impressed us with his nuanced play with colours, but by his ability to create atmosphere and mood. And his whispering “piano” as well as his powerful “forte” had substance, staying power, communicativeness. Form and content in equilibrium, which particularly benefitted a selection of Preludes and the Estampes of Debussy. In the Far-East inspired “Pagodes”, “La soirée dans Grenade” and “Jardins sous la pluie” Kenner revealed a magical tone that filled, animated, worked eloquently, far removed from superficiality.
A record to fascinate even the most blasé listener
This is Chopin presented with a difference. For here Kevin Kenner follows a reeling path, moving effortlessly from Chopin through related composers (Scriabin, Szymanowski, etc.) to Bill Evans (who I once had the rare privilege of hearing in the hallucinatory and narcotic atmosphere of a Dallas nightclub) and George Crumb. To crown everything, all the performances by this American but European-based multi-prize-winning pianist are of unwavering mastery and musicianship, with towering but never forced strength and a rubato and nuance both personal and telling. He is exceptionally glittering and stylish in Chopin’s Fantasie-Impromptu (later making a ghostly reappearance in Crumb’s Dream Images) and offers a tantalising glimpse of Balakirev’s extensive but little-recorded repertoire in his Second Nocturne, music enriched with the composer’s elegant and conversational brilliance.
One mystery remains. Kenner’s own fine essay makes no mention of a lavish arrangement of Chopin’s Mazurka, Op.7 No.2. This is sufficiently piquant and startling to raise eyebrows and I was reminded of Moisewitsch’s mischievous delight in teasing his audience with one delectable but unannounced encore after another. Everything is beautifully recorded on a light-toned instrument quite without alien heaviness or texture. This is a record to fascinate even the most blasé listener and I can scarcely wait to hear this superb and enterprising artist in further recordings.
Peter Grahame Woolf
Exceptional, counting amongst the most subtle and expressive piano playing enjoyed in several years
Kevin Kenner is an American multi-prize-winning pianist, piano professor at the Royal College of Music in London, but new to me though already boasting a substantial discography.
Musical Pointers tends to avoid CD titles, but this one is spot on, completely appropriate. Kenner’s selection, and its ordering, celebrates the transmission of Chopin’s particular traits in works of numerous subsequent composers, sometimes deliberate and obvious (Crumb), mostly transformed in a variety of personal ways. Kenner, clearly a thinker amongst pianists, places them deliberately in “a seamless flow of musical ideas transcending composer, time and place”.
This works superbly.
The performances? They are quite exceptional, counting amongst the most subtle and expressive piano playing enjoyed in several years. A disc which we have played through twice with increased admiration.
And a bonus discovery; like our Daniel Grimwood [cf. Chopin on Erard], Kevin Kenner doubles as a keen fortepianist, and has contributed to the recording of all Chopin’s piano music on fortepiano; hear him in the Ab Impromptu on an 1848 Pleyel.
Paderewski: Piano Concerto; Polish Fantasy
American Record Guide
Absolutely inspired collaboration between a master artist of the keyboard and a great orchestra
Kevin Kenner is a 48-year-old pianist born in southern California who took top prize at the 1990 International Chopin Competition in Warsaw and also studied with Leon Fleisher at the Peabody Conservatory before achieving worldwide renown. Marcin Nalecz-Niesiolowski was born in the Polish seaport of Gdynia and has led the Orchestra of the Padlasie Opera and Philharmonic (as it is known today) as well as its predecessor, the Bialystok Philharmonic, with consummate dedication and mastery going back to 1997. Together they have given us a pairing of the Piano Concerto and Polish Fantasy of Ignacy Jan Paderewski that must surely rank at or very near the top of a daunting array. The notes tell us that while in Warsaw Kenner saw first hand the fervor of the Polish people with the rise of Solidarność and soon became almost a Pole by adoption. But you really don’t need to read the notes to appreciate that: it is evident in every phrase, every pregnant pause, every step of the pungent Polish dances that color both of these flavorsome and robust repasts.And what a wonderful concerto this is! Steeped in Polish folk culture, this is no lamentation of a subjugated people but an effusive outpouring of song, spurred on by pointed dance rhythms — the mazurka, kujawiak and krakowiak — that set the soul on fire and compel all who hear them — be they Poles or not — to shove aside their chars and join willy-nilly in the revels. It’s not a flashy piece in the manner of Liszt; yet it’s by no means a piece for beginners either.
The Fantasy is more flamboyant, a highly spiced tribute to the homeland he loved. Listening to Kenner I soon set aside as irrelevant any attempt at detailed comparison. I hardly needed to take any notes at all, so wonderfully idiomatic and rhythmically adroit is this fine pianist. Just as both pieces stand as Paderewski’s nationalist homage, so seamlessly does this Californian master of the keyboard mesh with the Polish musicians that it might easily be seen for what it really is: Kenner’s homage to the tireless energy and spirit of the Polish people.
Just a few scattered observations that I retrieved from my scribbled scrawls: what a light touch this man Kenner has, what clean fingering in passages that would have a lesser man struggling to stay afoot — for example the sweeping arc around 4:10 into the finale of the concerto — or 16 minutes into the Fantasy. How effortlessly he tosses it all off without ever compromising tone or accuracy. What luscious tone and deeply felt sentiment Kenner finds in the rapt ‘Romanza’ of the concerto, and what raffish wit he displays in that final dance starting 13 minutes into the Fantasy. This is no carbon copy concerto and Fantasy churned out to fill a void in Dux’s catalog: this is an absolutely inspired collaboration between a master artist of the keyboard and a great orchestra and conductor who clearly revere Paderewski and everything this noble and stirring music stands for. Listen to the way the music swells with pride at the close of the concerto, rising to its full height as soloist and orchestra join in a gesture of Solidarność of their own. You don’t have to be a Pole to feel this music in your very heart and soul. And even if you already have both of these pieces well represented on your shelf, you’ll want to hear this, for it is truly splendid in every way and a credit to Dux’s growing repertory of Polish masterworks.
I won’t even waste our Editor’s time and yours going down the long list of other available recordings (look at Nov/Dec 2002), but I would especially recommend Ewa Kupiec (Sept/Oct 1999) and Thomas Tirino (Newport: July/Aug 1992); and I’d also add the most recent entry by Piotr Paleczny with Jerzy Maksymiuk and the Sinfonia Varsovia (May/June 1994). You might also want to include Earl Wild’s mad escapade with Arthur Fiedler (Ivory; Nov/Dec 2007) as a sort of “guilty pleasure”, brash and brazen but exhilarating in its own madcap way. These are the cream of the crop.
Sensual and Tender, Poignant Tonal Magic
The Main Echo Online Service, Franz-Josef Doring
Piano Recital: Kevin Kenner enthuses at the conclusion of the musical season at Erbach Ivory Museum
What can crown the success of an excellent artist more than thundering applause and persistent bravos for this extraordinary concert? The exceptional pianist Kevin Kenner gave the audience and organizers of the Elfenbeinmuseum Erbach a glorious musical highlight last Sunday for the season finale 2010/11.
The pianist offered his astounded audience a program of profoundly penetrating works, sensitively and dynamically explored with flawless technique and an incredibly light touch. Quiet and confident, without intrusive gestures, the music emerged full of shading flowing easily from his dancing fingers.
Kevin Kenner was (born 1963 in California) already trained as a teenager in Poland, participating at the Chopin Competition, which he then won later, as well as the legendary Tchaikovsky Competition. In demand around the world as a soloist, chamber musician and juror he works as professor in Krakow and London. He now makes his home permanently in Poland.
Kenner’s program had a remarkable frame. Both the first and last pieces were dedications to Schumann’s beloved Clara. At the beginning of the soft sensual “Arabesque” op.18, garlands of sparkling silvery tones floated around the room. Later intense longing for his beloved. And at the end, the “Widmung” as transcribed by Franz Liszt. “Thou art my soul, thou art my heart,” conveys to the listener his deep love for his partner as emphasized by the extended crescendo.
With the Sonata in G Major D894, Franz Schubert created a work of moving intensity. It reflects in four movements his entire life battered by fate. It is as if the composer himself sits at the keyboard and reveals his inner life in poignant sounds. Kenner beautifully created Schubert’s sound world in all its nuance: thoughtful calmness, gentle dreams, joyful dancing, sweet singing, boisterous sassy interruptions, and magical feelings contrasted by rugged key changes, threatening protests, rousing crescendos and shocking moments.
Utopia, feelings, visions
In honour of the 200th Anniversary of the birth of Franz Liszt the pianist performed virtuoso transcriptions, first of the Weber Freischütz overture, an operatic musical synopsis. Liszt sumptuously crafted these nature-poetic idyllic melodies, feelings, and human and demonic visions, which Kenner clearly enjoyed romantically.
In the sensual delicate world of feeling the poetry he returned with song transcriptions. Schubert’s “Standchen” was offered as a tenderly elegant Caprice, a dream of love. In contrast, “Gretchen am Spinnrade” expressed the soul’s anguish and heartache against the monotonous backdrop of the spinning wheel. In Chopin’s love songs “Moja Piesczotka” and “The Maiden’s Wish”, the joy of love blossomed in the brilliant sunlight, love whispers, and the cooing of doves.
Dynamic rapid passagework
The grand finale came with the “Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise brillante in E flat major.” The Soloist offered us his favorite composer in excellent form. With dreamlike beauty he opened with the opening cantabile, luring us into Chopin’s enchanting musical world. And with dynamic effects, sparkling punches and rapid passagework he offered the markedly rhythmic Polonaise and gave his fascinated listeners a lively Chopin, and, thanks to the pianist – a lasting musical experience.
Paderewski Piano Concerto
BBC Music Magazine
Paderewski’s superb Piano Concerto, almost in the league of Grieg and Tchaikovsky, and the sparkling Polish Fantasy receive fiery treatment here. Kenner is excellent /CM
A Day of Surprises
Festival Bulletin No.3 of the International Chopin Festival, Duszniki Zdrój, Poland, Ewa Kofin
In a very peculiar way he creates pure beauty. He is a magician of moods. He captivates with lyricism and dazzles with drama and temperament.
The evening concert took place as planned, a Chopin recital by Kevin Kenner, which was an evening full of surprises. First of all, the artist put together a program in a completely novel way, by grouping together 16 different Chopin works into 4 blocks, connecting them together without breaks and sometimes improvising links between them. For example, the first group of pieces consisting of a Polonaise in F minor, a Waltz in A-flat, a Mazurka in C-sharp minor and the B minor Scherzo became a united and surprising continuum. It was just a small curiosity – to be able to skonstatować in light of what is presently going on with Chopin today, as Marcin Majchrowski in Bulletin No.2 prudently warned. I thought, therefore, that Kenner would not actually continue to move in such mutations of Chopin’s compositions, but then in the third block one could actually hear improvisations woven into the Mazurka in A minor.
But that was the actual seed of Kenner’s playing. His fame does not lie. Indeed an eminent pianist and not only in America. Outstandingly musical – it should be noted for his extremely interesting interpretations. In a very peculiar way he creates pure beauty. He is a magician of moods. He captivates with lyricism and dazzles with drama and temperament. And so it was experienced in most of these pieces, which however concluded with untamed madness, as in the Scherzo in B-flat minor. And yet one more surprise, this time a very pleasant one, which we encountered with the encores: here the virtuoso devoted himself to otherPolish composers – Paderewski and Szymanowski.
Kevin Kenner at the Piano: “Chopinissimo”
Le nouvel Observateur, Jacques Drillon
Run to the Cite de la Musique to hear Chopin by one of today’s best interpreters.
If we only discover one pianist during this year of Chopin, let it be Kevin Kenner. This 46 year old American pianist who was taught by the best Polish specialists, who won a large number of competitions (Warsaw, Van Cliburn, Tchaikovsky), plays all over the world, but never here. Why? Who knows?
He has a formidable technique but this is not unusual today. He has a golden tone, the warmest we have heard since Gilels. Why is this? Who knows? Pianos get slammed under certain hands and under others give the best of themselves. The young Kissin had special sound whose unusual beauty was recognizable. But the great Brendel ended his career without having found what he must have dreamed of. One more mystery, Kenner doesn’t have the piano keys under his fingers…they are in his blood: he speaks, he sings with the keyboard. The phrases and their rhythms flow as if by nature. Even the old historic instruments that he sometimes plays have a sustained treble only for him as well as an unusually round base.
And that is only half of it. Kevin Kenner is a poet. In spite of his knowledge of Chopin (and not only Chopin), as well as the stylistic, instrumental and textual history, he has remained pure in his thinking and imagination. There is something in him which resists – which does not crumble with the blows of his career and the adversities of life nor become weighted down by the stupidity of today’s conventions. Kevin Kenner is a complete person. How is this possible? He is intelligent and perceptive with spirit and character but he also gets tired and he laughs…he is just like anyone. But at the piano he is like no one. Don’t be mistaken: he was not a child who grew up protected from life, a stupid cherub. Nothing vapid or sentimental in him: he thinks on his feet and he can be violent but his natural being has not been warped. Nothing has veiled his precise view of the world. He sees further and more profoundly than others. For example, his Schumann is at once noble and wild, aristocratic and delightful. Nor is he perfect: his Ravel needs more burnishing – it is still too brilliant. But in Chopin he is ideal. Maybe he won’t be forever, who can know this? For now, though, ideal. Kenner is graced.
Polish Independence Day, Paderewski’s 150th Anniversary and Kevin Kenner
A wonderful concert tonight in Bialystok. Kevin Kenner at his very best.
The Orchestra of the Podlasie Opera and Philharmonic
Marcin Nałęcz-Niesiołowski – conductor
Kevin Kenner – piano (Great Britain)
I.J. Paderewski – „Polish Fantasy on Original Themes” for piano and orchestra, Op. 19
I.J. Paderewski – Piano Concerto in A minor, Op. 17
Kevin Kenner gave one of the finest, most heartfelt performances of this difficult concerto I have heard for a very long time. The orchestra and their conductor were tremendously committed to the music, to marking the patriotic significance of these anniversaries. They played with a passion that I wish was more common among Polish orchestral ensembles.
The great pedagogue Theodore Leschetitzky, Paderewski’s teacher who arranged the premiere in Vienna in 1888 with the Russian pianist Annette Essipoff, would have certainly approved Kevin Kenner as a soloist. To bring off the first movement successfully one has to have complete technical command of the instrument, a golden carrying tone and a close relationship with the orchestra. Virtuosic waves of embellished melody sweep across the keyboard like the wind across the vast plains of ripening wheat of Paderewski’s childhood Ukraine, panoramic and almost excessively elaborate. A movement not tortured by a metaphysical angst or elegant conceits that make serious demands upon the listener, but fervent music that appeals to everyone. Paris adored the work.
The poetic second movement would move a stone. I was flooded with romantic memories of fleeting landscapes past, remembered moments of tender feminine beauty, anguished partings and joyful reunions. Kenner was beautifully poised in this movement, never succumbing to the temptation of sugared sentiment – a lifetime of Chopin playing has taught him the power of emotional restraint in such affecting music. The final movement cannot help but arouse the healthiest of patriotic spirits. Kenner gave it all the styl brilliant treatment it deserves and roused the audience to their feet.
They really ought to record this work together. It was such a spirited performance, Polish in essence and full of understanding of the those joyful and sentimental aspects of the Polish psyche not afflicted with the lacerating darker notions of national martydom.
Colin Clarke comments on Kevin Kenner’s Chopin Preludes
Fanfare Magazine, Colin Clarke
Kevin Kenner’s Chopin exudes that rare combination of warmth and intelligence
Kenner’s reading of the preludes succeeds, it seems to me, because he manages to honor the integrity and character of each prelude but still retain the cumulative sense that leads to that tremendous, final, D-Minor Prelude. … Kevin Kenner’s Chopin exudes that rare combination of warmth and intelligence. In the accompanying interview, Kenner and I discussed the difficult tightrope of conveying the individual character of each prelude while simultaneously giving the feeling of a line that runs through the set, leading to the final, huge D Minor. There are significant highlights en route, of course, and sometimes surprising ones; never, for example, have I heard a more perfectly delivered, shadowy E♭ Minor (No. 14). The ensuing, famous D♭-Prelude (the so-called “Raindrop”) emerges all the more poignant thereafter. Poignancy is a recurrent factor here, experienced perhaps most weepingly in the ever-quieter answering phrases of the brief C Minor, No. 20. Rare, too, is the interior feel of the B♭ that follows. True, there is tremendous competition out there (Pollini and Argerich spring immediately to mind), but this remains a wonderful reading. Perhaps more impressive than anything in the preludes, however, is the way Kenner spins a seemingly never ending cantabile line in the Andante spianato (the robust Grande Polonaise brillante that follows is entirely convincing in its portrayal of national spirit). The Nocturne, op. 27/2, acts as a splendid underlining of Kenner’s affinity for Chopin’s melodic persona. The final, posthumously published E-Minor Waltz acts more as an encore than anything else.
Colin Clarke comments on Kevin Kenner’s Chopin Ballades
Fanfare Magazine, Colin Clarke
…One of the most purely beautiful accounts I have heard
…The structure and shape of the ballades is tricky, as the pianist must convey in the lyrical passages that the music is on the simmer, liable to explode at any moment. This Kenner achieves, and it is doubly impressive as his rubato can be daring in its elasticity. Perhaps it is Kenner’s own excitement at pushing forward his own boundaries that we, the listeners, respond to. The First Ballade exemplifies Kenner’s approach perfectly. Jewel-like articulation at speed rubs against reflective moments where he seems to be thinking out loud; even in the traditionally relentlessly hair-raising coda, this friction exists. Again, the Second Ballade has moments of heartbreaking innigkeit . Perhaps here the more overtly virtuosic sections could explode just a little more, but the reading fascinates throughout. Perhaps Kenner does not quite keep the tension throughout the Third Ballade, but the Fourth is one of the most purely beautiful accounts I have heard.
Colin Clarke comments on Kevin Kenner’s Chopin Impromptus
Fanfare Magazine, Colin Clarke
The recording is fabulous…a most satisfying listening experience
…The other recent disc features Kenner on an 1848 Pleyel piano (built at the Royal Fortepiano Factory in Paris with an English-type mechanism) and features works written from 1832 to 1842. It begins with one of his two recordings here of the op. 45 Prelude. None of its poignant power is lost via informed historical performance; now, however, the power is underscored by a brittle feeling that seems to imply vulnerability. The recording is fabulous, too, with the instrument never losing tonal depth in the upper registers. The intelligent programming leads to a most satisfying listening experience. The Pleyel’s action seems to suit the fluid Fantasy-Impromptu. Listeners used to the more sonorous tone of a modern concert grand may find that the op. 39 Scherzo loses some of its power, especially in the louder chordal passages. It is all gain, though, in the beautifully ululating op. 36 Impromptu and the op. 32 Nocturnes. Kenner makes us wish the brief (:41) Presto con leggierezza lasted longer; he is all fantasy in the impromptus. Finally, a gift of the op. 59 Mazurkas, delivered with impeccable style and flair. The disc of scherzos and other works for solo piano, DUX 0504, enables us to hear the op. 39 Scherzo and the op. 45 Prelude on a modern instrument. Kenner adjusts his reading perfectly. The modern instrument results in a loss of the brittle undercurrent referred to above, but seems to add a depth to the statement. Fascinating to compare the two performances, each as valid as the other. The scherzos speak of heroic things. Kenner is undaunted by any technical challenges, and so it is that the leaps of op. 31 sound as fearless, and as risky, as they might be in a concert hall. There is no sense of hesitancy about the B Minor, op. 20, either. Time and time again, though, it is in the smaller gems that Kenner impresses; here, despite the overt patriotism of the two polonaises, it is the op. 67 Mazurkas that, shining and glistening, remain most set in the memory afterward.
David Saemann comments on Kevin Kenner’s Chopin Preludes
Fanfare Magazine, David Saemann
…One of the important Chopin pianists of our time
This is my first encounter with the playing of Kevin Kenner. Based on these three CDs, I would have to say that he is one of the important Chopin pianists of our time. Winner of the International Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 1990, Kenner plays Chopin with such distinction that his interpretations can be mentioned in the same breath as those of such previous winners as Maurizio Pollini, Martha Argerich, and Garrick Ohlsson. I had the luxury of listening to 10 other recordings of the preludes for this review, and Kenner’s achievement belongs alongside any one of them.
What makes Kenner’s Chopin so special? Sir Colin Davis once said of Berlioz’s music that you never can tell which way the thoroughbred horse will jump. The same is true of Chopin as interpreted by Kenner. At times the pianist is a poet, telling a story with grace and style. At other times, Kenner is a great actor, inhabiting a work so fully that he reveals the composer’s many moods without artifice. As a technician, Kenner is both solid and at times brilliant. His tone is rich and full at all dynamic levels. His fortissimos are never clangorous; his chords always are exquisitely voiced. Cherkassky and de Larrocha may possess a more distinctive tone in Chopin, but Kenner’s tone serves the music just as well. His command of form always is balanced against the need for expression. No matter what the expressive gesture, Kenner’s feeling for Chopin’s musical architecture remains keenly apparent. In sum, Kevin Kenner is a complete artist, both sensitive and inquisitive, and he asserts his artistry quite comprehensively across these three discs.
The disc with the preludes is the earliest of these recordings, made in Warsaw Philharmonic Concert Hall in 1995. The program notes quote Robert Schumann’s baffled response to the publication of the preludes in 1839: “These are sketches, outlines of études, or if one prefers, ruins, remains, a colorful and chaotic mixture.” Schumann’s reaction indicates the new territory for Romanticism that Chopin had staked out. Like Schubert’s Winterreise , Chopin’s preludes are a radical statement of the Romantic ethos. Kenner seems to feel this, and the dominant mode of his interpretation is, as in the Schubert, tragedy. His tempos are relatively slow but they never drag, filled as they are with the richest expression. From the rocking rhythm of the First Prelude onward, we feel that we are having a special experience. In the longest preludes, Nos. 13, 15, and 17, Kenner subtly modifies the tempo to keep the melodic line alive. The “Raindrop,” No. 15, receives a performance notable for its tragic impulse, rather than the sentimental melancholy with which it often is presented. The final prelude, No. 24, is devastating, and the left hand for once is fully integrated into the work’s drama. Even in the briefest preludes, Kenner achieves a full characterization instead of a modicum of noise. All the other works on this disc are equally successful. The Andante spianato and Grande Polonaise in particular receives a vivacious reading, full of color, idiomatic rhythms, and at times breathtakingly hushed playing.
Colin Clarke on Kevin Kenner’s Ravel
Fanfare Magazine, Colin Clarke
…A tremendous voyage of variegated color
…This disc reveals another side to Kenner, one that is able to catch the myriad glistenings of Ravel. Kenner opts for a cleanly articulated approach that is entirely apt. Miroirs becomes a tremendous voyage of variegated color; the juxtaposition of Ravel’s exploration of the waltz ( Valses nobles et sentimentales against La Valse ) is inspired, and the Ravel/Kenner La Valse is a magnificent adventure. The disc ends with the balm of the Pavane.
Colin Clarke comments on Kevin Kenner’s Schumann
Fanfare Magazine, Colin Clarke
…Kenner’s grasp of the Fantasy is superb, culminating in a truly spellbinding finale
Wonderful to see the Schumann Davidbündlertänze on the all-Schumann disc. This sequence of 18 “characteristic pieces” seems woefully underrepresented, especially in the concert hall, a shame as it is delightful and beautifully constructed. Tomasz Jez’s booklet notes are exemplary in their appreciation of this wonderful set. Disc placement plays its part too. We hear the op. 6 first, before the much more famous op. 17 Fantasy, and the one complements the other perfectly. Kenner’s grasp of the latter piece is superb, culminating in a truly spellbinding finale (“Langsam getragen. Durchweg leise zu halten”).
Kevin Kenner: Schumann Davidsbündlertänze, Op.18 … on DUX
Fanfare Magazine, Steven E. Ritter
…Pianism of the highest order…wins me over time and time again
Kevin Kenner is a pianist I had never heard of before, but a quick search of the Web proves him to have garnered some impressive accolades, especially in Europe. He has a good number of CDs under his belt, none of which seem to have made it to Fanfare yet (until now) for reasons I cannot fathom, for this is pianism of the highest order. While there are some things I disagree with interpretatively, Kenner plays with such clarity and perfect delineation of line that he wins me over time and time again.
The League of David Dances was praised highly by me in Paolo Giacometti’s excellent performance ( Fanfare 33:1), and I have always retained a high regard for Wilhelm Kempff’s recording as well. I think, after several hearings, that Kenner matches those two lustrous readings. Of course with any popular Schumann work the recordings are legion and it is very difficult to justify even attempting to select one best, but critically that is my job so there you have it. With the Fantasy it is even worse as the work is so popular and so well played by so many pianists. Richter holds court with this one fairly substantially, but so do Brendel and many others, the piece surprisingly vulnerable to a lot of interpretative nuances. But even though Kenner takes a few liberties with the score, he is able to carve a deeply moving sculpture out of Schumann’s opus, especially the final shimmering, moving last movement, where the hidden esoteric counterpoint in the work, often overlooked even by the greats, is thrust forward into a brilliant profile. The Arabesque is one of my favorite pieces, and Horowitz has always ruled the roost for me, but Kenner gets just about everything right, eclipsing Giacometti’s also very fine reading that now sounds a little too careful to me.
Schumann’s Fantasy Pieces features the alternating egos of Florestan and Eusebius, and the composer himself, having split from Clara, was undergoing some serious soul-searching that might have found its way into this series of very introspective and simultaneously chip-on-the-shoulder vignettes. Kenner guages them beautifully, offering Schumann a reprieve from his consternation and making this music reflective of the human condition in general and not just the lone problems of one man. Chopin is a specialty of Kenner if the press releases and number of recordings are to be believed; this one Fantasy whets my appetite for more, though I cannot say it ranks with the best I have heard—currently I favor Kissin on RCA.
The Beethoven here is the most wayward of the bunch—Kenner has a lot of proving to do in order to convince me of his Beethoven credentials. Part of the difficulty may lie in the concept of this album, Fantasy . The “Moonlight” Sonata is still a sonata first, with only a hint of fantasy as a constitutive element that helps to ascertain the favor and feeling of the work. But a true fantasy it is not, and Kenner tends to play up the wrong aspects of the score.
But one bad apple doesn’t spoil the whole bag, and I am very happy to have discovered a pianist with so many gifts and fresh opinions to offer, and who also has the advantage of displaying his many gifts for a record company like Dux that has seen fit to provide him some sensational sound. Both discs decidedly recommended.
David Saemann comments on Kevin Kenner’s Chopin Ballades
Fanfare Magazine, David Saemann
…No one with an interest in the state of Chopin performance today can afford to be unaware of Kevin Kenner
The ballades CD was the last of these three to be recorded, in 2005 at the Pomeranian Philharmonic Concert Hall. It is the CD with the best sound, clear and full, although the other discs certainly are very good. You really can appreciate the beauty of Kenner’s tone on this CD. In the softer sections of the ballades, Kenner doesn’t appear to play the melodies as much as he caresses them. This is storytelling of a highly elevated nature, which I think is what Chopin had in mind in creating the extra-literary ballad. Each ballade here is a miniature drama. One can imagine them being played as the accompaniment to a silent film, yet who can say what the images of that film might be? In truth, Kenner is a greater performer and actor in interpreting this music than a visual performance of any actor could pretend to be. Even though Kenner seems to play the ballades with considerable freedom, he never makes a dramatic misstep. I simply love this performance. The last ballade left me nearly in tears the first time I heard it. In the Barcarolle, Kenner makes much of the Italianate substance of the melody, yet we are always aware through the harmony (exquisitely accentuated with the pedal) that this is Polish music. It’s a Polish barcarolle. Once again, Kenner ends his recital with a delicate performance of a nocturne. The only down side to this CD is its short playing time.
When confronted with artistry of this caliber, comparisons are invidious. Just to put my cards on the table, I will mention that I like Daniel Barenboim in the preludes, Marta Deyanova in the scherzos, and Evgeny Kissin in the ballades, although a full evaluation of the discography for these works is beyond the scope of this review. I note from Kevin Kenner’s Web site that he has recorded Chopin on a period instrument for the Fryderyk Chopin Institute in Poland, a CD I am eager to hear. For the time being, I’ll content myself with saying that no one with an interest in the state of Chopin performance today can afford to be unaware of Kevin Kenner. Enthusiastically recommended.
David Saemann comments on Kevin Kenner’s Chopin Scherzos
Fanfare Magazine, David Saemann
…This is a set of the scherzos that is greatly persuasive on repeated hearings
The next disc to be recorded was the one with the scherzos. It was made at Henry Wood Hall in London in 1997, and was produced by the redoubtable Stephen Frost. Kenner’s scherzos really fulfill the meaning of “scherzo,” or “jest.” In the rapid passages, there is a devil-may-care insouciance that puts me in mind of the marvelously virtuosic readings of Philippe Entremont. The contrasting slow sections are another story, though, as Kenner allows himself considerable latitude for emotion and pathos. From a technical standpoint, the Fourth Scherzo is perhaps the most remarkable, with Kenner sustaining fast tempos at softer, beautifully regulated dynamics. Altogether, this is a set of the scherzos that is greatly persuasive on repeated hearings. Kenner’s mazurkas are lithe and gracious, truly “cannons buried under flowers”—as Robert Schumann is quoted in the program notes. The op. 44 Polonaise rumbles along with panache and devilry. As for the “Heroic” Polonaise, Kenner sustains the melodic line beautifully. I almost could hear the dulcet tones of Perry Como singing along with it—in the Tin Pan Alley version, Till the End of Time. Since I like Perry Como, that’s intended as a compliment. After all, Chopin’s melodies should “sing.” The op. 45 Prelude moves as naturally as by osmosis, and the program ends with an evanescent performance of a nocturne, in a Beechamesque touch.
Classical CD Reviews: Chopin Four Impromptus
Audiophile, Gary Lemco
American virtuoso Kevin Kenner contributes thirteen pieces towards The National Edition of Fryderyk Chopin’s Complete Works
Performing on an instrument typical of Chopin’s own era, an 1848 Pleyel built at the Royal Fortepiano Factory in Paris, American virtuoso Kevin Kenner (b. 1963) contributes thirteen pieces towards The National Edition of Fryderyk Chopin’s Complete Works. The earliest of the pieces are two: the C-sharp Minor Fantasie-Impromptu, Op. 66 and the slight Preludium in A-flat Major (Presto con leggeriezza), from 1834. The late pieces, G-flat Impromptu (1842) and Three Mazurkas, Op. 59 (1845) reveal the artistic and harmonic growth of this most idiosyncratically original of all the Romantic pianist-composers.
Kenner, whom I recently reviewed for his recital in San Jose, CA, enjoys exploring the stylistic permutations in Chopin, and this strong recital taped in Warsaw (17-19 March 2009) demonstrates the power and flexibility of Chopin’s own instrument, given its range of 82 keys. The soft delicacy of timbre that infuses the opening C-sharp Minor Prelude and the second of the impromptus, the F-sharp Major, Op. 36, more than suggest a combination of poetry and power accessible to the temperamental Polish nationalist who embraced the Parisian cosmos as his own. Many of the works incorporate not only brilliant roulades and instrumental flourishes that approximate the vocal bel canto style, but exploit a variation principle Chopin found congenial for chromatic experimentation. That very sense of improvised harmony comes forth well in the F-sharp Major and G-flat Impromptus, each of which applies Chopin’s audacious harmony to an idiosyncratic variation technique.
The light action of the 1848 instrument still carries an emotional clout and formidable resonance, as in the Polonaise in c Minor, Op. 40, No. 2, its C Minor authority rife with dark menace. The familiar Fantasie-Impromptu cascades in robust fioritura, elegant in its middle section that may have us chasing rainbows. The brilliant Prelude in A-flat (1834) flutters by in silken arpeggios. The two Op. 32 Nocturnes convey salon nostalgia and bel canto arioso at once, especially the B Major’s invocation of Les Sylphides. The monumental C-sharp Minor Scherzo perhaps rings less forcefully than it does on the modern grand piano, but its alteration of declamatory chords and fiery runs proves engaging as it had at Kenner’s San Jose concert, which specifically featured the complete set of Scherzi. The late set of three Mazurkas, Op. 59 celebrate the composer’s national soul ever more authentically in this instrumental guise, the passing metric subtleties lingering between waltz and aristocratic or peasant dance. Intimate and explosive simultaneously, these purely rhythmic kernels seem always poised for both militant gallantry and earthy dalliance.
Scherzo Magazine (Spain), Santiago Martin Bermudez
It is a quintessence of a remarkable musician’s style. Deserves maximum interest.
A fine discovery… delivered with great finesse
The idea of the Fantasy – Fantasie, Fantasia, Phantasy … pick your preferred spelling – has been around for a few hundred years. And why not? What would be more tempting to a composer than to let his or her imagination run free, unrestrained by the rules of form? Works by some of the earliest keyboard composers in the early sixteenth century bear the title. The romantic composers had a field day with the genre, producing some magnificent and original works.
Beethoven’s two sonatas Op. 27, which bear the name “quasi una fantasia”, make use of this musical free-wheeling in their opening movements. The “Moonlight” so named by the poet Heinrich Rellstab when he commented that the first movement reminded him of the moonlight over Lake Lucerne, opens with what in other hands could have been a monotonous chord progression of broken triads, followed by a rather out of character and jaunty second movement. It ends with a c-sharp minor thunderstorm by which a pianist could easily sprain a wrist.
Robert Schumann’s collection of miniatures is intentionally programmatic, each with whimsical titles. Rapid-fire shifts of emotion mark these gems that can at one moment lull the listener into reveries and at the next send him bolting out of his easy-chair.
Chopin gives us a work on a far grander scale, a composition that runs the gamut of emotions from serenity to broad rushes of emotional turbulence.
It is all delivered with great finesse by the American pianist Kevin Kenner, heretofore unknown to me, but who seems to have established a fine working relationship with the Polish Dux label. A musician of excellent pedigree, Mr. Kenner plays with great technical authority and with a fine sensitivity to structure, form, tonal shading and expression. Perfectly able to exhibit technical brilliance, Mr. Kenner chooses to disguise his prowess in subtleties rather than to blast us with unseemly keyboard pyrotechnics. His playing of the much over-recorded Beethoven sonata is governed with impeccable taste. Even the flashy finale is rendered with much elegance, with careful attention to inner voices, and with special care to make the perpetual arpeggios come across with clarity and precision.
His Schumann can be positively dreamy where allowed; powerful and authoritative where appropriate. The contrast between Evening with its serene melody and Soaring with its jet engine power is so pronounced that the shift between movements can be startling.
Finally, Mr. Kenner delivers a beautifully restrained account of Chopin’s Op. 49. It is so easy to romp through Chopin’s music just to show off, and somewhat rare to find a player who has discovered the poetry in the music. Kenner is just such a musician, and he is able, through carefully crafted phrasing and a fine singing melodic line to bring off this music in such a way as to never belie its technical sand traps.
As always, the highest compliment I can pay to a recording is that it left me wanting to hear more from the artist. This is just such a disc. Kevin Kenner is a fine discovery; one that I hope will come to even more international attention in the future.
The Washington Post, Joan Reinthaler
Kenner is a major talent. His recital revealed an artist whose intellect, imagination and pianism speak powerfully and eloquently. You listen to him and think how obvious it is that the music should be played this way and it seems so simple that you wonder why everyone doesn’t do it.
Financial Times, David Murray
Not a showy performer, he proved nonetheless to be a Chopin player of grace, subtle variety and strength, with a mature grasp of dramatic structure and proportion: in short, a grown-up musician nearing his peak.. I look forward to hearing a lot more of Kenner.
Frankurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Gerrit Priessnitz
…darting ‘scherzando’ flourishes he let rattle in fine dynamic shading over the keys. A few listeners shook their heads in disbelief at such technical brilliance during the racing octave passages towards the end of Mendelssohn’s Rondo Capriccioso, Op.14. Such brilliance Kenner possesses indeed; but beyond that, a remarkable transparency of sound and pedalling, so that one can effortlessly follow his concentrated played with programmatic scene changes from ‘Eusebius’ to ‘Florestan’, from ‘Paganini’ to ‘Chopin’, as well as his so to speak absolute musical concept in Schumann’s Carnaval, Op.9.
The Hartford Courant, Hartford, CT, Steve Metcalf
Thursday’s soloist, Kevin Kenner, gave Rachmaninoff’s Concerto No.3 a sensational ride. An American with above average competition credentials, Kenner showed himself to be a major league presence in every way.
A Magician of Scintillating Tone Colors
Kölnische Rundschau, Hürth, Germany, Claudia Valder-Knechtges
Even if the popularity of the works contributed to the audience’s enthusiasm, Kenner’s inner encounter with the musical temperament fashioned a conclusion to the Series that could hardly have been more successful.
With equal portions of impregnable taste and acute sensibility, he shapes sound and tempo so that phrases and motives become a language….you certainly got something for your money!
The Independent, London, Adrian Jack
Two years ago, at the QEH, Kenner gave the best performance I have ever heard in the concert hall of all four of Chopin’s Ballades….His performance on Wednesday showed the most generous imaginable range of expression, strong emotional commitment and the kind of balanced musical judgement very few artists achieve.
The Miami Herald, James Roos
He has technique to burn wedded to musicianship of keen sensitivity.
Pianist Finds the Right Key to Greatness
Fort Worth Star Telegram, Wayne Lee Gay
He is well on his way to becoming a major artist of our time.
Star on the Rise
Chicago Tribune, Howard Reich
Friday night, the gifted pianist made his Chicago-area debut opening the ‘Rising Stars’ series at the Ravinia Festival’s Bennett Hall, in Highland Park. His recital’s strengths reaffirmed his stature as one of the finest American pianists to come along in years.
As the Great Ones
Badische Zeitung, Wolfgang Gauss
With such a style Kevin Kenner could one day belong to the greats.
Schwaebische Zeitung, Winfried Wild
Fulfilled a criterion which one only knows from great Chopinists such as Rubinstein, Benedetti-Michelangeli and Dinu Lipatti.
Rheinpfalz Zeitung, Ludwigshafen
A thrilling performance by the young American in Ludwigshafen! It will be fascinating to see how the further development of this highly gifted pianist takes its course. With his gifts he could become a real great!
Manchester Evening News, England, John Robert-Blunn
Kenner is an accomplished artist of assured technique and well poised artistry….Provided a climax which was captivating.
Delicate Soulful Sonorities
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
In Chopin’s Piano Concerto he set out with swift tempi and fluid forward-moving playing. He approached passagework and melodic material with a light-fingered polished touch. His deep concentration had an brought about harmonic and balanced ensemble with the orchestra. The second movement was filled with romantic delicate soulful sonorities formed thoughtfully and delicately. Kenner lent a dream-spun atmosphere to the florid fabric of the Rondo. Enthusiastic cheers in the auditorium were impressively answered with a Chopin Nocturne dissolving into nothingness.
Kevin Kenner Left the Audience Dreaming
Neue Rhein-Zeitung, Duesseldorf, Antje Olivier
A review of Kevin Kenner’s live performance of the E minor Concerto
The way in which he performed Chopin’s Concerto set standards, standards which have not been heard in many years…. A Chopin style that sounds so musically definitive that all other standards are forgotten….No one else can match his crystal-clear jeu perle and his pianissimo..
Kenner’s Piano Sizzles
The San Diego Union, David Gregson
…A wonderful young artist rapidly going to the top…The Kenner performance is a must!
KXLU Radio, Los Angeles, Peter DeVere
Kevin Kenner is a performer of inexhaustible energy, phenomenal memory, brilliant technique, admirable originality and astounding musicianship.
The New York Times, Bernard Holland
…Demonstrated a technique able to handle almost any complication clearly and confidently.
Polish National Television, Jan Weber
Every piece played by him underlines the principle of his individual style. His deep inward concentration gave us an original proposition emanating from a classical base; very original without exaggeration, everything carefully studied and derived from Chopin’s music but with a new original approach.
Piazzoforte — Astor Piazzolla
In one word, one can listen to this without end
Performed with bravura, thoughtful, full of inner tension, captivting,,, It would be possible to add yet many other epithets. Words about the CD Piazzoforte put together by the ensemble of the same name, whose director is double bassist Grzegorz Frankowski, and prize winning star of the 1990 International Chopin Competition, pianist Kevin Kenner.
The disc comprises works of the Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla – master of the tango (or in the words of Piazzolla, “El tango Nuevo” – combining Jewish, jazz, habanera and other rhythmic and melodic musical elements) in arrangements for chamber ensemble of strings and piano. This is not the first meeting of these musicians with the music of Piazzolla – Grzegorz Frankowski was founder of the group Cuarteto Polaco, the first professional music group in Poland to present the works of Piazzolla.
The album opens with the work “Michelangelo 70” – rhythms of the habanera, sharp, powerful sounds of the violin, a melody which rises to a short suspension and ends full of energy. “Tres piezas para orquestra de camara” opens the “Preludium” with the violin’s magical cantilena, which revels in its lyricism. Opening the second movement “Divertimento”, the piano leads a dance gliding through rhythms and melodies. The “Fuga 9”, concluding the cycle, is the real show of these musicians. There is no way to stay in one’s seat (especially at the end of the work). The three-movement “Concierto del Angel” opens in slow tempo with the “Milonga del Angel”, full of nostalgia, lyricism. In complete contrast is the fiery second movement “La muerte del Angel” with its bravura finale. “La resurrección del Angel” with an ingenuous solo piano cadenza. The disc finishes with the most lyrical „Oblivion” and Frankowski’s own arrangement of the volatile „Revolucionario”.
The music recorded on this disc is full of passion. It is heard in every trill, in every sharp pull of the bow, in each plucking of the bass string, in each entrance of the piano. This disc did not appear by accident, but his the result of an authentic musical enchantment, whereby, as Frankowski says, „there is no way to remain indifferent”.
In one word, one can listen to this without end.
Kevin Kenner’s Captivating Chopin
The Washington Post, Ken Krehbiel
His rapt dreaminess was riveting in the Nocturnes and his virtuosity in the Scherzo was dramatically expressive, not merely showy.
Polish National Radio Program II, Warsaw, Jan Popis
Kenner achieves the highest level of transcendence…He is a mystic. He comes to us with a message which he reads as a verse from the Bible. He shares with us what he understands from his reading of the ‘Holy Writ’ created by the hand of the composer. These are magnificent and wise readings of Chopin’s score.
Kevin Kenner’s individuality dominates. He states here his own exposition. His musical sensitivity envelopes everything that Chopin said in Op.11 (Concerto No.1). He grasps everything at the highest level of understanding. This is not a case of performing well or even very well on the piano. One must have an inner power even as Kenner has, who in his artistic vision reaches transcendental regions.
Kenner plays Ravel
Bartosz Luboń, HiFi Muzyka
Kenner controls the instrument perfectly, still never flaunts his virtuosity – to such extent that while listening to every piece we forget about the pianist’s presence and we only absorb the music.
East San Diego Press
A masterful performance of Chopin’s Piano Concerto…Brought the amazed audience to their feet in a torrent of applause and elation…was that of a genius.
HiFi Muzyka, Hanna & Andrzej Milewscy
Kevin Kenner feels perfectly with a lapidary form of Davidbündlertänze. He plays with elegance and bravura at the same time, spinning a lively, fascinating story from individual links of the cycle.