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Ivo Pogorelich: Phoenix or Swan Song?

available at Amazon
F.Chopin, Preludes,
Ivo Pogorelich

Other Reviews:

Donald H. Crosby, Pianist Ivo Pogorelich, Unsettling Old Scores
(Washington Post, November 3)

Joshua Kosman, In the 11 years since his last local recital, pianist Ivo Pogorelich has distilled his idiosyncratic approach
(San Francisco Chronicle, October 26)
When Ivo Pogorelich's playing is called "unique," it isn't always in the most flattering way that this description is employed. He is certainly a willful pianist and his playing can be mannered. I, for one, rather like his Chopin Preludes and Liszt Sonata in B Minor, and his recording of Scarlatti Sonatas is downright sublime because rather than being gratuitously eccentric he's got something to say, musically. I am sure he also wanted to say something in op. 111, Beethoven's last piano sonata and according to Thomas Mann's Wendell Kretzschmar in Dr. Faustus, "a farewell to the art form of the sonata in general." Just what that was, however, I could not discern. After the fierce passion of the momentous Allegro con brio ed appassionato (played just that way!), Pogorelich caressed the moving, gentle opening of the 2nd movement with its famous C-G-G, D-G-G notes out of his Hamburg Steinway. But as he took his time to devote attention to detail in the following variations, the coherence of the work was lost to waywardness and the sonata's end sadly fell apart like a flower's petals after bloom.

Before that, he showed why Sonata No. 24, op. 78, really is one of Beethoven's best works in the genre. Two movements, lovingly played (with plenty of attention to the "emotional" part, for those who need that in Beethoven) linked it wonderfully to op. 111. The standard set by Maurizo Pollini's rendition at the Kennedy Center last Wednesday (see ionarts reviews, from October 31) was not quite reached, though.

The Croatian Pogorelich, who became instantly world-famous when he was eliminated at the International Chopin Competition in 1980 (causing Martha Argerich to leave the jury in protest), was the Lang Lang of his time. Now, nearing 50, playing to a half-filled and dimly lit Center for the Arts at the George Mason University in one of his first concerts in some time, he comes in darker, more subdued hues.

In tails and with his head shaven, he looked eerily much like Rachmaninov himself, whose Moments musicaux, op. 16, no. 1, he presented at the beginning of the second half. Under the soft touch of his huge hands, the work turned into fragile Whistler-like nocturnes. Alexander Scriabin's Sonata-Fantasy, another two-movement work, drifted and murmured about—not inappropriately for a piece that is to reflect the sea—until he picked up force towards the end. Visibly uncomfortable with applause, Pogorelich was busy getting right back to the piano and Franz Liszt.

While the performance had already become better from Beethoven to the Russians, it was in the Hungaro-German's three Etudes d’exécution transcendente that Pogorelich excelled. Since they were perfectly suited to his playing and musical personality, he mastered the exercises with panache. Precision and Romantic vigor were showed off in unforced flashiness. He simply ignored applause between the pieces and plowed right through Feux follets, Wilde Jagd, and Appassionata. His offering of a staggering palette of pianos and pianissimos was unlike I have heard from any pianist before.

Just to curb the frenetic applause, Pogorelich threw in another Liszt étude as a most substantial encore that, despite the evening's persistent sense of an odd mis-communication between artist and audience, brought the house down. A few shy, acknowledging nods later, he was gone. The aftertaste was peculiar puzzlement: was the dazzling Liszt the sign that this pianist was storming back to once-held acclaim, or was an obstinate Beethoven an explanation for his step out of the limelight? If presumably neither, the concert certainly was distinctively Pogorelich—an attribute that will continue to repel distractors and lure fans from all over the country.

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