Maurizio Pollini, Barbican, London

Barbican, London

Maurizio Pollini has been a regular visitor to London for more than 30 years now, but it is a long time since he has given a recital as thrilling as this one. This programme of Chopin and Liszt, composers right at the fulcrum of Pollini's repertory, was a return to his great performances of the 1970s. There was little of the icy detachment that has made some of his recent appearances rather remote affairs; instead, his engagement with every particle of the music kept the audience on the edge of their seats.

In the all-Chopin first half, Pollini took a little while to relax; both the C sharp minor Prelude Op 45 and the Second Ballade were immaculate, yet a touch cool. Then, though, everything snapped into sharp focus. The two Nocturnes Op 27 were effortlessly spun from perfectly poised silvery lines, the C sharp minor Scherzo steadily ratcheted up the tension to an immense, breathtakingly accurate coda, and the A flat Polonaise seemed all muscle - intense and immense.

After the interval came Liszt's B minor Sonata in a performance of fearsome musical strength, its components fused into a single indivisible span. It was preceded by a group of late Liszt pieces, a long-time Pollini speciality. If Nuages Gris and La Lugubre Gondola are relatively well known, Unstern, whose soundworld anticipates Bartok, is rarely heard, and RW-Venezia, a wracked tribute to Wagner, is as bleak as anything written in the 19th century.

There was more to come, though - Debussy's prelude La Cathédrale Engloutie, its climax perfectly weighted, before Pollini returned to Chopin with the C minor Study from Op 10. Then amazingly, as a final encore, the first Ballade. It was one of the pieces included on his first recital disc in the 1960s, and he played it here with the same authority and spellbinding musical definition. One of the great recitals, no question.

Contributor

Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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