- 471 351-2
Emperor Concerto, VPO/Bohm
- 471 352-2
Concertos 3 & 4, BPO/Abbado
- 471 353-2
Piano Concerto No. 1,
Piano concerto BPO/Abbado
- 471 354-2
Sonatas: Op.27/1, Moonlight
- 471 355-2
- 471 356-2
Sonata in A (D959)
Three Pieces (D946)
Allegretto in C minor (D915)
- 471 357-2
- 471 358-2
- 471 359-2
Sonata No. 2
- 471 360-2
Concertos 1 & 2, CSO/Abbado
- 471 361-2
solo piano music
Piano Concerto, Abbado;
- 471 362-2
- 471 363-2 BONUS CD
First Piano Concerto (first release)
Schumann Piano Concerto (first release)
Maurizio Pollini (piano)
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: March 2002
CD No: DG 471 350-2 (13 CDs)
Pollini himself has approved this set’s choices and the (often-imaginative) re-couplings. Invariably there’s 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.
Pollini’s 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. That’s not within Pollini’s gift; anyway his repertoire indicates his range and predilection.
While Pollini is disdainful of the difficulties of Schumann’s Fantasie, one wonders if there could be more danger, that Pollini is not being too strict; perhaps there’s a lack of … fantasy. His control and poise though is mesmeric with no lack of sensitivity or warmth in the finale, the music’s inner expression blossoming. Schumann’s Arabeske is lightly floated, Pollini brushing the keys, and Liszt’s 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 Pollini’s 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 Pollini’s 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. Debussy’s 12 Etudes lack charm and colour, and also the ambiguity and freedom of form that Pierre Boulez relates to. Pollini’s note-perfect renditions are not the full story. Boulez’s 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.
Pollini’s sonorous and weighty Schubert A major sonata (D959) glowers and speaks of loneliness; the intensity as the slow movement’s 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 – there’s room (just) for an example of each. Pollini’s Chopin is admirable for his refusal to indulge or cheapen with glitter; yet it can be over-rigorous – Pollini’s absoluteness doesn’t short-change Chopin’s 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. Pollini’s fastidiousness also illuminates the musical qualities of the Op.25 Etudes.
A gentle, rippling account of Beethoven’s Fourth Concerto includes the rarer and perhaps more interesting of Beethoven’s two cadenzas, the one Brendel prefers. (There are parallels between these two great pianists, although essential differences would be Brendel’s 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.) Beethoven’s G major concerto joins its C minor companion (No.3) from Pollini’s 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 Mozart’s A major concerto (K488) with Beethoven’s ’Emperor’ (No.5). Karl Bohm’s warm conducting enhances both. In Mozart, Pollini’s discriminating, poised playing encapsulates a sense of wonderment; it’s a magical reading, intimate exchanges suggest a productive relationship with Bohm who’s a trenchant host to Pollini’s 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. Pollini’s clarity and uncompromising dissemination is as good as it gets, yet the music’s elusiveness, its capacity for off-the-cuff entrée isn’t 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.
Schumann’s concerto and Brahms’s 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 doesn’t 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 Schoenberg’s six Op.19 pieces! Anyone wanting a representative recording of Schoenberg’s solo music needn’t look further. Pollini’s is no-frills Schoenberg, its radicalism and didactic stance unequivocal; Pollini’s engraving remarkably lucid. So too in Schoenberg’s concerto, Abbado’s 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). Webern’s Variations, Op.27, complete the CD, music that distils sound and silence.
Stravinsky’s Petrushka movements may just be too clinical. For all Pollini’s 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, Bartok’s First Concerto has its modernist and percussive motivation more than attested, yet the folksier elements are almost banished in favour of only the music’s essentials, which is fine for the implacable middle movement but less persuasive in the outer ones. Bartok’s 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 Pollini’s expressive shaping to the bassoon’s droll comments. The slow movement’s otherworldly strings move like clouds; the finale is punchy without aggression.
Luigi Nono’s 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. Nono’s ’… sofferte onde serene …’ (“… serene waves suffered …”) is for piano and tape, the latter both complementary to and developing of the piano’s 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 Pollini’s 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 year’s Chopin Competition, which Pollini won. It’s a marvellously vibrant performance unhampered by poor mono sound, from which the piano itself escapes. From 1974 is a Salzburg Festival performance of Schumann’s Concerto with Karajan and the VPO – poetic, translucent and compelling in its inwardness and sensitivity, Pollini and Karajan in harmony.