This recital was dedicated to
the memory of Italian composer Luciano Berio, who died on May 27th.
Although there was no contemporary music on Pollini’s programme, he
has always been a champion of the avant-garde, including in his repertoire
music by several of his countrymen (recordings of Manzoni and Nono spring
to mind, as does a Barbican performance of some Sciarrino).
Pollini cares about the music of our most recent past: and the dedication
of his recital to Berio’s memory seemed to spur Pollini to give his
very best (and his very best is unparalleled in pianistic circles today).
Pollini’s reputation in Chopin
has always been up there with the greats, ever since his victory in
the Warsaw Chopin Competition in 1960. Perhaps that explained the sell-out
audience. The actual sequence of pieces was intensely satisfying, intimate
Nocturnes Opp. 32 and 55 sandwiching the A flat Ballade, followed
by the Barcarolle and the Berceuse contrasting with the
final C sharp minor Scherzo.
Pollini is not readily associated
with the Nocturnes, but his performances here make one sit up and beg
for a recording. His achievement was to create an almost miraculous
balance between the public and private by projecting his interpretation
with the utmost concentration. Despite the fact he launched into Op.
32 No. 1 the second he sat down at the piano stool, silence from the
audience was instantaneous. Any sense of warming-in to the recital with
these pieces was entirely absent. There was an intensity to the climax
of Op. 32 No. 2 which prepared one for the heights of the A flat Ballade.
The lyrical heart of this Ballade
was laid bare. Moments of the utmost delicacy and, yes, intimacy, were
characteristic of this performance. Not qualities one always readily
associate with this pianist, but all the more cherishable for that,
and qualities which carried on into the Op. 55 Nocturnes. The
unfolding of ornamentation in Op. 55 No. 1 was compelling (as was the
perfectly judged diminuendo over arpeggiated chords); the contrapuntal
part-writing of Op. 55 No. 2 was presented lucidly and beautifully (interestingly,
Pollini sought to invoke an almost organ-like sonority at times).
For a pianist all too frequently
accused of over-preparation, the Barcarolle emerged as an outpouring
of improvisation, moving inexorably towards its climax. Again, the Berceuse
began in a very interior fashion, the ensuing decoration emerging with
gossamer lightness – all this was in preparation for the entrance of
Pollini the Titan for a strong and powerful C sharp minor Scherzo. Contained
energy strained to get out from the very beginning, leaving the listener
breathless by the close.
Pollini then directed his unique
insights towards Debussy’s second book of Préludes. Here
there was clarity within veiled mystery, another interpretative tightrope
Pollini trod with expertise. Each Prélude was carefully
considered in its own right (the frozen chords of Feuilles mortes;
the teasing rhythms of La puerta del vino; the humour of General
Lavine; the lovely tonal differentiation of Ondine; the fluttering
and flickering of Feux d’artifice), yet each made a part of a
Before the by-now inevitable standing
ovation, there were bound to be encores, but even by Pollini’s generous
standards this was a treat. Debussy’s Cathedrale engloutie was
a monument in sound, and the Revolutionary Study fizzed along
with angry energy. Perhaps the First Ballade was not such a good
idea, however. The unthinkable happened – a memory lapse – before the
performance was rescued and the Coda took off.
This was pianism of the very first
order, a recital that will be difficult to ever forget.