24 Preludes, Op.28
Ballade in G minor, Op.23
2 Nocturnes, Op.27 – No.1 in C sharp minor & No.2 in D flat
12 Etudes, Op.25 [selection – numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 10, 11 & 12]
Maurizio Pollini (piano)
Reviewed by: Colin Anderson
Reviewed: 1 March, 2010
Venue: Southbank Centre, London – Royal Festival Hall
On the evening of Chopin’s second possible birth-day, HarrisonParrott and Southbank Centre pulled off another coup (the first was to engage Krystian Zimerman the week before for this composer’s ‘other’ potential day of arrival) by asking Maurizio Pollini to distil his particular brand of Chopin interpretation. For all that his chosen music has appeared in previous Pollini recitals in London in recent years – the Ballade as an encore on three previous occasions – the Royal Festival Hall was at bursting point in terms of audience numbers, the ‘returns’ queue even longer than it had been for (the more elusive) Zimerman.
Pollini sees the 24 Preludes whole, as a unified piece. At one with his mild-voiced Steinway, in its Fabbrini incarnation, Pollini ensured that the two-dozen pieces were rigorous and focussed. Pollini doesn’t do charm or sparkling (or he disguises them well) but his seriousness of intent was a timely reminder that Chopin is no candy-floss composer. Majesty and austerity are both within Pollini’s gift, so too delicacy and fantasy, if not (always) these days transcendental virtuosity, but for intellectual grasp and an eschewal of prettiness, Pollini is an exemplar of displaying Chopin’s debt to Bach and Mozart.
In that much-exercised Ballade, Pollini was seamless in integrating its episodes but avoiding smoothing-out the music’s character: logic and feeling in virtually perfect sync; and the pair of Nocturnes revealed, respectively, a melancholic dusk and, then, a troubled calm, Pollini’s beautifully turned link between the two pieces sabotaged by insensitive coughing (a problem throughout the evening and generally perpetuated by those who are ignorant of the importance of silent bars within pieces or hush between them). Pollini’s decision to play eight of the Opus 25 Studies (from publicity, punters will have expected all twelve) was misguided and gave a one-sided view of the set’s range. Nevertheless, the pianist always made music from these finger-twisting creations, whether lyrically expressive and colossally dramatic as required, he and his instrument now well able to speak in anger and deep emotion.
As encores, Pollini offered the ‘Revolutionary’ Study (the last of the Opus 10 collection), properly upraising, a Mazurka that might have been a sensitive winding-down of the evening – as a remembrance of native soil – except that he would not then have given us a marvellous account of the C sharp minor Scherzo – coruscating, articulate, majestic and consolatory … and returning to coruscating. A note in the programme advised that BBC Radio 3 was in attendance to record Pollini’s recital; seemingly not given the absence of microphones.
Looking forward, Pollini’s five-concert Project next year (January to May) in the Royal Festival Hall – from Bach to Boulez and embracing Schubert and Stockhausen – is a lip-smacking invitation to a seriously attractive journey.