Arts and Entertainment your connection to The Boston Globe

Kissin plays with color and imagination

Evgeny Kissin's deep tones, shaped and shaded to perfection, defined his performance on Sunday. (Sheila Rock)

Cough drops are a wonderful invention; cellular technology is more of a mixed blessing. Too much of the latter and not enough of the former made Evgeny Kissin's Bank of America Celebrity Series recital on Sunday a challenge in aural multitasking. In between the audience's telephonic and laryngeal spasms at Symphony Hall, one could occasionally ascertain Kissin's opulent, finely delineated pianism.

Kissin's sound, a deep tone shaped and shaded to perfection, defined his playing. Opening with Schubert's Piano Sonata in E-flat (D. 568), he polished each phrase like a jewel, but it was only in the final movement, a swinging dance that twirls into stormier territory, that he threaded them together into compelling rhetoric.

The austere, unrelenting drama of Beethoven's 32 Variations on an Original Theme (WoO 80) was a whiplash shift from Schubert's loose, easygoing structure. The tightly wound C Minor elaborations are a musical muscle car: All concessions to comfort are stripped away in the interest of drive and power. Kissin's preternatural clarity and precision quashed any hint of sentimentality. Sharply even passagework stung the ear; the thickest bass texture had the intense enunciation of Shakespearean rage.

In Brahms's Six Pieces (Op. 118), Kissin adopted an athletic approach that initially resulted in an incongruous nervous edge. But the fifth piece, an understated, resiliently framed "Romance" with an unusually impressionistic interlude, relaxed into a noble, generous breadth, and the minor-key sixth piece daringly pushed further, Kissin's strikingly slow tempo, gossamer line, and expansive dynamic arc revealing an expressionistic core.

Chopin's "Andante Spianato and Grande Polonaise Brilliante" (Op. 22), originally written as a piano-orchestra showpiece and later arranged by the composer for solo piano, was quite simply astonishing.

As the ineffably limpid nocturne of the introduction gave way to a polonaise of increasingly giddy virtuosity, Kissin surmounted each hurdle with inexhaustible reserves of color and imagination, veering from a whisper to a roar in an instant, turning phrases with coy charm and deploying kaleidoscopic legerdemain with a magician's flair. It even hushed the audience.

Belying his reputation for extensive concert-end bonuses, the subsequent loud, perhaps penitent applause could only coax three encores from Kissin; a high-octane rendition of Vladimir Horowitz's "Carmen Variations" closed the evening in blazing fashion.


Evgeny Kissin, piano

Presented by Bank of America Celebrity Series

At: Symphony Hall, Sunday