Maurizio Pollini at Royal Festival Hall

Piano Sonata No.17 in D minor, Op.31/2 (Tempest)
Piano Sonata No.23 in F minor, Op.57 (Appassionata)
Fantasy in C, Op.17
Two Nocturnes, Op.27
Scherzo in B flat, Op.31

Maurizio Pollini (piano)

Reviewed by: Colin Anderson

Reviewed: 4 March, 2009
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall

Maurizio PolliniA generous and demanding recital, the veiled arpeggios of the ‘Tempest’ Sonata immediately conjured a world away, the ensuing allegro muscular and unvarnished, Maurizio Pollini’s Fabbrini-maintained Steinway yielding fine and open sound. Clarity of discourse was Pollini’s objective, and unstintingly delivered, elevated in the slow movement, rather too direct and quick-paced in the finale, its spinning-wheel suggestions barely revealed.

The ‘Appassionata’ was a greater success throughout its course, the three movements taken in a single breath, the work as a whole somewhat compacted, Pollini avoiding sentimentality and the ‘silent movie’ cliché that this work can descend to. If the middle movement retained solemnity despite a forward-moving pace, earlier Pollini had ensured that first movement’s incendiary aspects were fully opened up, its quieter musings integrated and potent. The finale – with the development section repeated, as marked (so important in its novelty and also to balance what has gone before) – was brimful of tension, which the coda, not quite as coruscating as needed, didn’t quite cap despite Pollini’s fearless delivery of it.

Pollini made a musical proclamation of Schumann’s Fantasy, noble in the first movement, but not trying to second-guess Schumann’s state of mind. Rather it was an organic process, the exposed and technically challenging middle movement the designs of a pianist who knows the pitfalls and how to avoid them without appearing overly careful, the slow finale beautifully tender without being mawkish, the Chopin Nocturnes continuing the mood in rapt and often-magical style.

By Pollini’s standards, the Scherzo fell away somewhat, pushed through in speed, somewhat ungainly and non-variegated, and with numerous finger-slips. Chopin also provided the encores, two Studies from the Opus 12 collection, the ‘Revolutionary’ and Number 4, and, then (and not for the first time!), with members of the audience on their way out, or hats and coats in the ‘ready to leave’ position, Pollini returned for the G minor Ballade, a sizeable envoi that found him at his best, its sections bound by super-glue, its closing emotional release titanic.

It seems to be an all-Chopin programme when Pollini next gives a recital in the Royal Festival Hall, scheduled for 1 March 2010.

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