471 361-2 Schoenberg solo piano music Piano Concerto, Abbado; Webern Variations, Op.27
471 362-2 Nono Manzoni
471 363-2 BONUS
CD Chopin First Piano Concerto (first release) Schumann Piano Concerto (first release)
Maurizio Pollini (piano)
CD No: DG 471 350-2 (13 CDs) Duration: Reviewed: March 2002
Maurizio Pollini Edition on DG
Reviewed by Colin Anderson
Chiselled, majestic delivery, imperious and intellectual. Maurizio Pollini has just turned sixty; his place as one of the great pianists is assured. Sometimes he can seem aloof, uncommunicative even, yet his depth of feeling and single-mindedness is compelling.
Pollini himself has approved this sets choices and the (often-imaginative) re-couplings. Invariably theres a missing classic recording or two; this box will be tempting and frustrating to Pollini completists, those already owning this material who will want the bonus CD of material not previously issued.
Pollinis virtuosity can be taken for granted. There is though nothing easy about his playing. Sometimes he can be intimidating, challenging pre-conceptions or requirements to be entertained. Thats not within Pollinis gift; anyway his repertoire indicates his range and predilection.
While Pollini is disdainful of the difficulties of Schumanns Fantasie, one wonders if there could be more danger, that Pollini is not being too strict; perhaps theres a lack of fantasy. His control and poise though is mesmeric with no lack of sensitivity or warmth in the finale, the musics inner expression blossoming. Schumanns Arabeske is lightly floated, Pollini brushing the keys, and Liszts B minor sonata is a model of structural lucidity and elemental power. This B minor may lack a satanic backdrop, a sense of the macabre, it may even be a tad rigid but I was riveted by Pollinis absolute conviction in what must be among the greatest accounts of this pianistic summit.
Pollini and insouciance may not be thought co-existing, but he can though produce melting tenderness; he may not colour for its own sake, yet his touch and resonance is of the piano and for the music. For all Pollinis astonishing abilities, it is the music that comes first; one is not in the company of a showman but a deeply serious truth-teller.
Thoughtfully re-packaged as the individual CDs are, with notes and photos, there are a few disappointments. Debussys 12 Etudes lack charm and colour, and also the ambiguity and freedom of form that Pierre Boulez relates to. Pollinis note-perfect renditions are not the full story. Boulezs own Second Sonata (a brilliant coupling) is a masterpiece explosive and refractive, given a reading of consummate virtuosity and understanding, its late Beethoven tag convincing. Boulez himself has spoken of destroying form; his sonata seems eminently logical.
Pollinis sonorous and weighty Schubert A major sonata (D959) glowers and speaks of loneliness; the intensity as the slow movements storm clouds gather is astonishing. The forsaken beginning to the slow movement is revealed through aesthetic purity; the relaxed gait of the finale is unassuming. The Three Pieces (D946) are fleet and shapely without quite suggesting Schubert visiting new dimensions.
The Chopin CD is short measure, 57 minutes; surprising not to have a Polonaise or a Scherzo or a Ballade theres room (just) for an example of each. Pollinis Chopin is admirable for his refusal to indulge or cheapen with glitter; yet it can be over-rigorous Pollinis absoluteness doesnt short-change Chopins structures and is best sampled in the B flat minor Funeral March sonata, not a blistering, no-prisoners-taken account, rather one that aims for something long-term if less enigmatic. Pollinis fastidiousness also illuminates the musical qualities of the Op.25 Etudes.
A gentle, rippling account of Beethovens Fourth Concerto includes the rarer and perhaps more interesting of Beethovens two cadenzas, the one Brendel prefers. (There are parallels between these two great pianists, although essential differences would be Brendels wit, which makes him a great Haydn player (a composer not associated with Pollini) and his capacity to parenthesise points of reference where Pollini has a monastic focus.) Beethovens G major concerto joins its C minor companion (No.3) from Pollinis second Beethoven cycle. In No.4 Claudio Abbado is a scrupulous accompanist, delicacy, incident and chamber-like intimacy in tandem; the Third is somewhat streamlined with just enough rhetoric to avoid gilding the lily.
Anyone new to Pollini should look no further than the CD coupling Mozarts A major concerto (K488) with Beethovens Emperor (No.5). Karl Bohms warm conducting enhances both. In Mozart, Pollinis discriminating, poised playing encapsulates a sense of wonderment; its a magical reading, intimate exchanges suggest a productive relationship with Bohm whos a trenchant host to Pollinis thoughtful, measured ingestion of the Emperor. The opening solo of the Adagio is rapt and beautifully timed; the finale is the epitome of athletic prowess.
Beethoven sonatas have the life-force behind them, sometimes an irresistible energy the Waldstein, the finale of Op.27/1. Otherwise a classical equilibrium merges with Romantic imagination and structural articulation. The Hammerklavier and Op.111 are coupled and are supreme in terms of focus and technical brio; for me they lack the suggestion of the larger world Beethoven created. Pollinis clarity and uncompromising dissemination is as good as it gets, yet the musics elusiveness, its capacity for off-the-cuff entrée isnt always given reign. Op.111 is gruff, trills scowl; this is more engaged, yet the suspicion of expert tailoring remains. The Arietta is still and withdrawn, Pollini capturing the privacy of the music and accumulating the variations inexorably; the swing episode (from 6㤢) is ideally stressed but without the openness of, say, Friedrich Gulda.
Schumanns concerto and Brahmss First do not quite take-off, the Schumann not so much earthbound as not romancing or elusive enough; Abbado is more concerned with such things. The Brahms is warmer but perhaps too controlled.
Pollini doesnt distinguish between old and new music; for him there is continuity, the musician obliged to play the music written in his own time. At his recent London recital (20/11/01) Pollini played Webern and Stockhausen alongside Beethoven and Brahms; as his third encore he played Schoenbergs six Op.19 pieces! Anyone wanting a representative recording of Schoenbergs solo music neednt look further. Pollinis is no-frills Schoenberg, its radicalism and didactic stance unequivocal; Pollinis engraving remarkably lucid. So too in Schoenbergs concerto, Abbados accompaniment captures its gentle character and lyricism, a 12-note work that is not barbed, Pollini responsive to legato and orchestral fabric, spikier entreaties integrated. This is in the company of Brendel/Gielen and Uchida/Boulez (both Philips). Weberns Variations, Op.27, complete the CD, music that distils sound and silence.
Stravinskys Petrushka movements may just be too clinical. For all Pollinis astonishing pianism, the vibrancy familiar from the full-score version is eschewed, which other pianists have incorporated, although not necessarily with this bravura and attention to detail. With Abbado again, this time the Chicago Symphony, Bartoks First Concerto has its modernist and percussive motivation more than attested, yet the folksier elements are almost banished in favour of only the musics essentials, which is fine for the implacable middle movement but less persuasive in the outer ones. Bartoks Second though is magisterial, a reading full of inflections and not a little humour try between 3 36 -4-34 of the first movement,from Pollinis expressive shaping to the bassoons droll comments. The slow movements otherworldly strings move like clouds; the finale is punchy without aggression.
Luigi Nonos Como una ola de fuerza y luz (Like a wave of power and light) is a half-hour drama of huge impact for soprano (Slavka Taskova), piano and large orchestra, a charged narrative compelling on different levels declamation, atmosphere and sound, conducted with great sympathy by Abbado. Nonos sofferte onde serene ( serene waves suffered ) is for piano and tape, the latter both complementary to and developing of the pianos sound, a personal world hauntingly realised by composer and pianist in co-operation. In Masse: Omaggio a Edgard Varese, Giacomo Manzoni explores timbre, multiphonics and a whole range of playing techniques; it sounds a bit dated now and stylistically anonymous, the percussive piano part somewhat ungrateful to a master pianist.
The thirteenth CD is a bonus, perhaps unlucky for Pollinis admirers who have all the recordings collected here, bar these first issues. (Some shops have broken sets up allowing this release a separate life.) Chopin No.1 (1960) is from the concluding concert of that years Chopin Competition, which Pollini won. Its a marvellously vibrant performance unhampered by poor mono sound, from which the piano itself escapes. From 1974 is a Salzburg Festival performance of Schumanns Concerto with Karajan and the VPO poetic, translucent and compelling in its inwardness and sensitivity, Pollini and Karajan in harmony.