Fanfare Magazine

Phillip Kawin, Gerard Schwarz and the Russian National Orchestra

Sometimes I regret that I don’t know everything. Oh, I’ve claimed that I do often enough; but usually the person I am talking to suddenly walks quickly across the street and pretends to be intensely studying the manure display in the window of the farm supplies store. Lately I’ve been wondering whether I should stop claiming this omniscience. It has recently come to my attention that I only know almost everything. For example, believe it or not, I didn’t know until quite recently that such a person as Phillip Kawin existed. There has been probative evidence of this, but it is scant. A CD of a recital featuring music by Beethoven, Schumann, and Prokofiev was released eight years ago and is still available; also a Schubert disc. But now he has revealed himself in all his glory with this performance of Beethoven’s Third Piano Concerto. (Note that two discs are included, one in the DVD format and one on Blu-ray, so you can choose your poison—I should say, choose your ambrosia. Unfortunately there are no booklets or notes included.)

Most pianists are at their most thrilling while involved in a grand crescendo. But Kawin grips your heart with his subito piano. He goes from the most turbulent emotions to heartbreaking caresses in a way that I’ve only heard from one other artist: Vladimir Ashkenazy. But with Kawin, you feel the power that lurks below. It’s like comparing Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly.

Well, Ashkenazy has many entries in the catalog, including all the mature piano concertos of Mozart, which I’ve never gotten over—pure gold. Now we need the other four Beethoven concertos from Kawin and ideally, much more. He is accompanied here by Gerard Schwarz, one of the most underrated conductors of the century. I lived in Seattle during his tenure as Music Director of the Seattle Symphony, a post he held for more than 20 years, during which the ensemble went from the orchestral boondocks to world class. And here, he draws a superb performance from the Russian National Orchestra. Kawin and Schwarz—together they’re dynamite. Buy it.

David Reznick

Copyright © 2020 by Fanfare Inc.

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