Maurizio Pollini, Royal Festival Hall, London

Royal Festival Hall, London

A year ago at the Barbican, Maurizio Pollini gave one of the greatest piano recitals that London has heard in recent times: a programme of Liszt and Chopin that harked back to the magisterial authority with which he launched his career. Yet for the first half of his latest appearance, it was hard to believe we were listening to the same pianist: Pollini played Schumann's Kreisleriana and a Chopin sequence of the Op 33 Mazurkas and the B minor Scherzo with his usual formidable fluency, but little trace of enthusiasm.

It was a particularly sober-suited view of Kreisleriana, gruff almost, with scarcely a trace of rubato and a dogged concentration on tiny details at the expense of shape and momentum in what should be one of Schumann's most exhilaratingly quixotic works. And while, in their monochrome way, the mazurkas were carefully realised, the whole world of feeling behind them was ignored

After the interval, though, Pollini was transformed. From the very first bars of Danseuses de Delphe, he rendered the whole of Debussy's first book of Préludes in exquisitely precise terms. If the exploration of keyboard sonority in movements such as Voiles and La Cathédrale Engloutie was immaculately laid out, then the humour and charm in La Sérénade Interrompue, La Danse de Puck and Minstrels were touched in beautifully, too. It was perfectly judged.

There was more to come. Three encores, ending with a storming account of Chopin's First Ballade, were totally compelling, a reminder that on such form Pollini has few peers among today's pianists. We just needed him to play Kreisleriana again, with the commitment that he gave to the ballade.

· Broadcast on Radio 3 on July 3.

Contributor

Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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