I find him dry and detached the way most of forefront pianists of today are. He has been described by some as a "perfect son-in-law", a man you cannot say anything really probing about, neither good nor bad, which, again, seems to be a common contemporary concert hall standard. I found this the other day on the web, although I disagree with some "cliché" claims, it is still worth a glimpse:
Why are today's concert pianists so boring?
by Martin Kettle, The Guardian, Thursday 5 September 2002
"It was the reviews of Evgeny Kissin's recent concerts that brought things to a head. The brilliant pianist is regularly hailed as the greatest of the modern age. But his reviews were terrible. The fans had cheered him, yet the critics hated his technically flawless playing. Left cold by Kissin as always, I sided with the critics. But it made me reflect that the problem may run deeper than a single pianist. If there were a softer and gentler way of saying this, then I would say it. But in my view, modern concert pianists have become boring. Very few of them have anything very interesting to say, at least to me.
To make such statements is to invite some heartfelt attacks. Some will say that it isn't the pianists who are boring, but I who am bored with the piano. Perhaps that is the case. But then I only have to put on a CD by Schnabel to know that I'll never be bored by him, at any rate. Others will ask what someone who does not himself play the piano can say on this subject with any authority. I have no answer to that. I merely believe that piano recitals - and piano recordings - used to be far more rewarding than they have become today. Is this objectively the case; and if so, why?
Many will say (as friends with whom I have discussed this subject have said): "But what about so-and-so? How can you dismiss an artist like X or Y?" And of course, in a way, that's unanswerable too. How could anyone in their right mind ignore an artist such as Mitsuko Uchida, for instance? But perhaps the world in which we listen to Uchida has changed more than we realise.
There was a time when the piano was the most accessible and most powerful medium of music for many people. The piano was to musical culture what the internal combustion engine was to mobility. The piano revolution started around the time of Beethoven and began to come to an end with the arrival of the LP. But its time is clearly over.
The piano's heyday stretched from around 1830 to 1960. That was true in four ways, all of them connected. Firstly, there was the technical revolution in the instrument itself, culminating in the unprecedented expressive richness of the concert grand. Secondly, there was the explosion of great writing for this wonderful new instrument, stretching from before the time of Chopin to after the time of Prokofiev. Thirdly, there was the emergence of a succession of outstanding players (of whom Liszt is generally acknowledged as the starting point), who gave concerts and later made recordings that deepened the public's enthusiasm for the piano's possibilities.
Finally, there was the increased availability of the upright piano and of relatively inexpensive sheet music, which combined to provide the principal means of domestic music-making of industrial society.
The days in which every middle-class home, and many working-class ones too, contained an upright piano - and at least one person people who could play it a little - have not been completely erased from memory. But they are fading fast. The gramophone, the radio and above all the television long ago replaced the piano as the focus and main source of home entertainment. It will never reclaim that place.
The piano's fall from eminence has been accompanied by a falling-off in the replenishment of the piano repertoire. As in all other music, composers have gone in other directions. Who, since, let's say, Shostakovich (and even this is stretching a point), has written piano music that genuinely holds its place in the recital repertoire? Certainly, few composers any longer write music that amateurs are able to play (not that many amateurs could ever play much Chopin); or (more importantly) that amateurs want to play, even in simplified editions.
In this context, it is hardly surprising that the piano recital itself should have begun to wither too. The recital has undoubtedly become a less mainstream part of musical life. There are fewer of them. They are not such big events in either box-office or artistic terms. Of course, there are exceptions. There always are. But we are kidding ourselves if we pretend that nothing has changed.
This brings us back to the pianists of the modern era, and the question of whether they have - or could have - remained unchanged amid so many other alterations in their world. The answer has to be that they have not. As the place of the piano has changed, so the place of the pianist has changed too. Pianists, and the audiences who listen to them, can no longer be sure that they represent a living and constantly regenerating art form. And it shows in the playing.
There can be no real dispute that the age of the pianistic "lion" - the age of Liszt and Rachmaninov - is dead. It died with Vladimir Horowitz in the same month that the Berlin wall fell. It was the end of the era of the pianist as star, an era in which pianists could be seen as demons possessed by brilliant and magical technical skills.
What is more striking, I think, is that the age of the intellectual pianist, the priestly interpreter of the classic works, is disappearing too. This tradition, stretching from Bulow and Busoni to Schnabel and Arrau (with a brief detour into the Glenn Gould cul-de-sac) now lives on largely in Alfred Brendel. But as the years pass, even this tradition is becoming frayed in the postmodern world.
Arthur Rubinstein once, with a characteristic smile, told an interviewer that he always thought of Brahms as a modern composer. This wasn't an assertion of conservative taste on the great pianist's part. It was simply true. Rubinstein's own youth had overlapped with Brahms's old age. When Rubinstein played Brahms, which I heard him do in his 80s, he was playing the music of a man who was part of his own lifetime. Listen to the wonderful Brahms recordings he left. It shows.
Twenty or 30 years ago, it was still relatively easy to hear elderly pianists who knew in their very being, as Rubinstein did, that they were artists in a living interpretative tradition. That quality shone through everything that such people as Arrau, Wilhelm Kempff or Rudolf Serkin ever played. All three were, I think, taught by pupils of Liszt (as was Schnabel before them), and Liszt had famously been kissed on the forehead by Beethoven himself. Arrau's Beethoven always had a sacramental feel. Serkin's Beethoven and Schubert recitals, of which I heard several, were overwhelmingly creative experiences in ways that one now never hears. Again, the Serkin records provide the proof.
And then there was Sviatoslav Richter. The first Richter recital I heard has stayed in my head as no other concert has. I remember everything he played and quite a lot of how he played it: an Olympian rendering of an early Schubert sonata; Franck's Prelude, Chorale and Fugue, in a performance so magisterial that I have never had the slightest inclination to hear anyone else play it; then, after the interval, an overwhelming account of the Liszt sonata.
This may all seem like nothing more than an exercise in 20-20 rose-tinted nostalgia. But golden ages really do exist. The 1960s and 70s came at the end of one such age. But those years were not some caprice of the pianistic gods. They were rooted in the European cultural history that immediately preceded them.
It seems to me significant that some of the most outstanding young pianists of that same era gradually turned away from the solo piano at this time. Whether this was a conscious rejection, let alone a coordinated one, is hard to know. But of the four most celebrated 60- something pianists of that period, only one continues to play regularly.
Daniel Barenboim still occasionally gives piano recitals, but for 30 years and more his remarkable talents have been focused on conducting. Martha Argerich, whom many people tend to nominate as the greatest living pianist, has not, so far as I know, given a solo recital in years, preferring (when she turns up) to play concertos and chamber music.
Vladimir Ashkenazy's withdrawal is especially remarkable in the light of his wonderful gifts. Like Kissin, Ashkenazy emerged from Russia with a technique that appeared to sweep away all technical obstacles. Unlike Kissin, Ashkenazy's technical skill was harnessed to a rare sensibility and a rich self-awareness. Yet for some years now, he too has turned his back on a virtuoso career.
The one enduring recitalist of that generation, Maurizio Pollini, seems troubled in a different way by the pianistic inheritance. The years have not dimmed Pollini's technique or his intellectual integrity, but there has recently been a cold intensity to his playing that is disturbing. This is a condition that seems particularly to affect Italians (Michelangeli in the previous generation went through a similar process). It is as though, in the pursuit of objectivity, Pollini now seeks to negate what was previously understood by interpretation.
This does not mean that there are no important recitalists any more, or that no pianist makes recordings worth listening to (though I can't help feeling that digital recording has not helped). Brendel, Uchida, Maria Joao Pires, Andras Schiff, Jean-Yves Thibaudet and, judging by a recent recital, Richard Goode, are all active pianists who in various ways continue to extend our understanding of the art form. The career of Joanna MacGregor, who is engaged in a one-woman crusade to reinvent the repertoire and the recital tradition, is proof both that there are exciting modern pianists and that the cultural terms on which they must play, if they are not to become mere antiquarians, have changed fundamentally.
This is not "the death of the piano". The piano will never die. But the great days have gone. With the passing of time, the piano is becoming ever more a historical musical instrument and ever less a creative one. Perhaps that explains why, though the pianists can play all the notes as well as ever, the notes carry so much less meaning to some of us than they once did."