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.
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.
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.
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.
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.