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S & H Recital Review

Beethoven, Chopin Maurizio Pollini (piano). RFH, Tuesday, March 2nd, 2004 (CC)

Some Pollini recitals are so memorable it seems they will never be forgotten. Some show tantalising flashes of Pollini at his best amongst performances that can appear less than involving. This concert was a curious mix of the two with some variable Beethoven rubbing shoulders with Chopin that, at times, approached greatness.

Beethovenís Piano Sonata in D, Op. 10 No. 3 is in some ways a curious beast, with the vast majority of the argument contained in the first two movements. It was almost as if Pollini wanted to emphasise this disjunction, for instead of the Menuetto easing into focus out of the depths of the Largo e mesto, there was a signifcant gap. Perhaps he was settling himself, for the first movement contained some messy elements that were unsettling (particularly in the cross-handed effects, firstly with the tone going awry, closely followed by a clear miss). Despite an effective textural crescendo towards the end of the movement, this was a worrying start. It was the slow movement that pointed towards Pollini the Great, its desolation only disturbed by echt-Pollinian grunting.

The Pathétique Sonata, Op. 13 was the companion work. Characteristically launching straight into the dark C minor of the introduction (oblivious of the audience), the main body of this movement was based on unashamed contrast. It was relentless (one could only marvel at his control, especially in the left hand). If that relentlessness was appropriate here, it was however much less so in the famous Adagio cantabile. Not waiting for the bronchially-challenged to finish their say, this was emphatically not an interior statement, Italianate literalism being at its height here. The finale was very, very allegro, so much so that even under Polliniís fingers the triplets became garbled. Pollini has rendered both of these Sonatas more truthfully here in London.

So the contrast with the standard of the Chopin Préludes was all the greater. Beginning with the separate C sharp minor (Op. 45) was a good idea, its dark shadings leading into, yet contrasting with the C major first Prelude of Op. 28. The set of 24 Préludes emerged as a journey that led to a granite-like account of the final D minor that was epic in scale, yet set within the temporal confines of a miniature. But the journey from C major to D minor was not along any straight road. Pollini presented Chopinís characteristic miniatures as a varied sequence that included a massive range of emotions, from desolation (No. 6 in B minor) through power (No. 12 in G sharp minor; No. 20 in C minor), the utmost agitation (No. 22 in G minor) and eloquent simplicity (No. 7 in A). Interestingly, of all of Polliniís now legendary early DG Chopin recordings, it is the account of Op. 28 that has always struck me as the weakest. It would appear full maturity has been reached.

It has to be said that Polliniís encores are now becoming predictable. The Etude in A flat, Op. 25 No. 1 was expected. The G minor Ballade (No. 1) is not unknown to the unscripted parts of his concerts, either. But this time at least it came complete (in an encore to his recital of Chopin and Debussy in June last year there was an uncharacteristic memory lapse.) By now able to let his hair down fully, the Etude in C sharp minor, Op. 10 No. 4 included an element of risk that was electrifying.

Colin Clarke





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