International Piano Series 2003/04 – Maurizio Pollini (2 March)

Sonata in D, Op.10/3
Sonata in C minor, Op.13 (Pathétique)
Prelude in C sharp minor, Op.45
24 Preludes, Op.28

Maurizio Pollini (piano)

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 2 March, 2004
Venue: Royal Festival Hall, London

Given that Maurizio Pollini could have included Webern, Nono, Stockhausen or Boulez and played them with the same regard as more ’accepted’ repertoire, he chose to programme perhaps the two composers most central to the piano’s literature.

By Pollini’s standards, the first of the Beethoven sonatas was disappointing, the Presto marking taken literally to render the first movement shapeless and gabbled. Indeed, the whole sonata sounded unsettled and disjointed, Pollini’s fingers a little stiff. Only the ’Largo e mesto’ made some impression, but even this seemed at one remove and non-penetrating to the real depth of the music.

Things improved for the Pathétique with playing altogether more poised, expressive and searched, the outer movements articulate without sacrificing drive and the famous slow movement given with a simplicity that had more to say than any amount of affectation would have done. (In a forthcoming International Piano appearance, Mikhail Pletnev similarly pairs these two Beethoven sonatas. 11 May.)

By the second half, Pollini had hit his finest form. There was no room here for Chopin the salon composer, thank goodness – the A major Prelude (No.7) that was downgraded in Les Sylphides being sensitively rescued. Pollini played the 24 Preludes as a true cycle, as a continuous structure, the different keys and moods marking the parts of the indivisible whole, Pollini identifying the musical inspiration of each without prettifying or distending, or, indeed, without denuding Chopin’s romance, passion, demonstration and intimacy. This was, in fact, a powerful concentrate, all over in 32 minutes without any haste.

Beforehand, the stand-alone C sharp minor Prelude had been floated on its way, a microcosm of Pollini’s sotto voce dynamics, lightness of touch and expressive inwardness. A shame, though, that a plebeian member of the audience started to applaud with the music still sounding, a faux pas repeated as the bass was still resounding at the end of Op.28, which was as ignorant an intrusion as those who had coughed during the tail-end of diminuendos and split-second silences between movements – of which there were many examples in the 24 Preludes, all of which required listening to and not violating.

Pollini generously gave three encores, all Chopin, the Op. 25/1 Etude (A flat), the G minor Ballade (Op.23) and another Etude, the C sharp minor (Op.10/4), all done with inimitable clarity and resolution, the Op.10 Etude resisting its silent-film ’chase’ aspect. How typical of Pollini to not do the obvious and continue to set the highest standards of musicianship. He returns to the Royal Festival Hall on 10 June to play Brahms’s D minor concerto with the Philharmonia Orchestra and Wolfgang Sawallisch.

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