2 Nocturnes, Op.48 – No.1 in C minor & No.2 in F sharp minor
Fantasy in F minor, Op.49
Piano Sonata No.2 in B flat minor, Op.35
Four Mazurkas, Op.30 – No.1 in C minor, No.2 in B minor, No.3 in D flat & No.4 in C sharp minor
Polonaise in F sharp minor, Op.44
Ballade in F minor, Op.52
Polonaise in A flat, Op.53
Maurizio Pollini (piano)
Reviewed by: Elizabeth Barnette
Reviewed: 29 April, 2010
Venue: Isaac Stern Auditorium, Carnegie Hall, New York
For the second of Maurizio Pollini’s three Chopin recitals at Carnegie Hall, the auditorium was again filled to capacity, including stage seats. In a change of program order, the evening started with a set of two Nocturnes as before, Opus 48 this time. A short, concentrated piece, the C minor piece almost belies the title with its energetic middle section, while its lengthier F sharp minor companion much more readily conforms to our idea of a placid nocturnal elegy. Pollini seemed to be more in tune with the passionate mood of the former, giving a straightforward, elegant reading of the latter.
However, some of the same issues which I noted in my review of his first recital again became obvious early on – a lack of soft dynamics, muddled textures, and over-pedaling. The motif at the beginning of the F minor Fantasy had no rhythmic clarity, its rest obliterated by resonance, and the chordal section, where Chopin does not mark the use of the pedal, was overly slurred and lyrical instead of majestic. But the bravura sections were dispatched with all the panache one could wish for, and Pollini managed to sustain one long line throughout the piece.
The B flat minor Sonata similarly was both frustrating and illuminating. Phrases often were rushed or not quite finished, and there was a limited dynamic range. The eerie finale, marked sotto voce e legato, suffered from a lack of definition and turned into a blur, with swells to forte levels. In the ‘Marche funèbre’, which used to be played endlessly at Soviet state funerals, Pollini gave us the most riveting playing of the evening. It progressed nobly, but inexorably, and following the simplicity of the middle section its return was all the more powerful.
After the interval the Four Mazurkas of Opus 30 were pleasant, but not particularly terpsichorean, nor was the F sharp minor Polonaise identifiably ‘Polish’. In the F minor Ballade Pollini displayed his considerable technical powers and control of structure, but again, there was a lack of poetry and color in the middle section. The concluding ‘Heroic’ Polonaise fully lived up to its name, with blazingly fast left-hand octave figures. Not to take anything away from his technique, but could it be that the piano’s action was adjusted to a light touch, making these feats easier? This would explain the bright sound of the instrument and the absence of true pianissimo playing, and of shading and color at the soft end of the dynamic spectrum.
An exhausted-looking Pollini was recalled several times. He miraculously found the energy for a spirited performance of the Scherzo in B flat minor (Opus 31).