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Maurizio Pollini de Retour

available at Amazon
Chopin, Preludes / Nocturnes / Mazurkas / Scherzo, M. Pollini
(DG, 2012)

available at Amazon
Chopin, Box Set, M. Pollini
(DG, recorded 1972-2008)

available at Amazon
Debussy, Preludes (Book 1) / L'Isle Joyeuse, M. Pollini
(DG, 1999)

Previous Recitals:
2010 | 2008 | 2006 | 2004
Why do we love the performances of Maurizio Pollini so much? What some listeners find too flinty or steely in his playing is the same lack of varnish, the stripping away of layers of affectation slathered on much-played music, that galvanizes my ears. There was also the near-invulnerability of his technique, something that is less breathtakingly perfect nowadays -- the Italian pianist celebrated his 70th birthday last year -- but there are still moments in a Pollini recital that can make your heart stop. The last time we experienced Pollini's playing here in Washington was in 2010, when Washington Performing Arts Society brought him to the Kennedy Center. He was scheduled to play for WPAS again in March 2011, with the last three sonatas of Beethoven planned, a concert that he had to cancel. For whatever reason, WPAS has not rescheduled that concert, and Pollini's latest appearance in the area came courtesy of Strathmore, where he performed on Sunday afternoon in a surprisingly not completely filled Music Center.

Pollini has written about his more recent approach to the music of Chopin as being more free, less literal and straight than the technically brilliant, not at all self-indulgent approach that won him the Chopin Competition in Warsaw in 1960, when he was just 18 years old. He gave a wistful, introspective quality to the opening prelude (C-sharp minor, op. 45) and to the quieter of the four mazurkas of op. 33, especially the melancholy odd-numbered ones. In two ballades, the second and third, Pollini felt no need to take the poetic sections -- said to be based on Chopin's love of reciting the poetry of Adam Mickiewicz -- too slowly, while the tumultuous fast passages of no. 2, some of Chopin's most impulsive and dastardly, were gutsy and thrilling, taken fast enough and with no quarter given to be just slightly beyond technical perfection. In the third ballade, he kept even the most extravagant of the bel canto opera-inspired runs in a strictly maintained tempo. To hear these demanding passages fitted into the prevailing meter is bracing for the way one thinks about Chopin, as with the forcefully played third scherzo (C-sharp minor, op. 39), which closed the first half.

Other Reviews:

Stephen Brookes, Pianist Maurizio Pollini’s mastery is beyond reproach, but playing has little spontaneity (Washington Post, April 16)
The second half was devoted to the first book of Claude Debussy's preludes, a series of poetic vignettes shorn of all artifice and affectation (listen to his performance of the set in London in 2008). The intention to keep the rhythm close to how it is notated on the page was announced in the first prelude, Les Danseuses de Delphes, played evenly, as it to accompany dancers, but no less evocative in the choice of voicings, and in the ethereal Voiles, even in the wispy whole-tone scales, said to evoke the exotic, slightly provocative veil dances of Loïe Fuller. Just as Chopin can often be played too wanly, Debussy's music can often lose its edge as pianists cover it too much in mist, but here the buzzing figures of Le vent dans la plaine and the tumultuous sweep of wind in Ce qu'a vu le vent d'ouest were more etched and thrilling than mere pastel washes. Soft moments were there, in the blanketed muteness of Des pas sur la neige, thankfully played not too slowly, and in the gentle curves of Les collines d'Anacapri, but the eighth prelude (La fille aux cheveux de lin) was played without any unnecessary rubato, the model of artless simplicity itself. Pollini has a witty side, too, giving playful voice to the Moorish inflections of the "quasi guitarra" La sérénade interrompue, the mischievous leaps of La Danse de Puck, and the broad, swaggering performance of Minstrels (the sort of entertainment Debussy had in mind may make listeners a century later somewhat uncomfortable). Sustained ovations elicited two encores, concluding with an incendiary performance of Chopin's "Revolutionary Etude" (op. 10, no. 12).

Maurizio Pollini will repeat this program at Carnegie Hall in New York this Sunday (April 21, 3 pm).


Anonymous said...

Do you know what Pollini's first encore was? I didn't recognize it.

Charles T. Downey said...

I think it was Debussy, Étude 11, "pour les arpèges composés."