Maurizio Pollini | Classical review

Royal Festival Hall, London

Pollini recitals are major events, but they have become unpredictable of late. One takes a seat uncertain whether Pollini will give us the intellectually concentrated pristine pianism that marked his imperious middle years or the disconcerting, almost take-it-or-leave-it interpretations that have become more common recently.

There were moments in this Chopin anniversary recital, 200 years after the composer's birth, when this more fanatically austere side of Pollini's playing took over. The handling of the G minor Ballade, for instance, which Pollini first played in London in 1968, is now almost unbearably unbending and breathless. Yet this was the exception, not the rule. The two Opus 27 nocturnes were characteristically shorn of all exhibitionist cliche, but were exquisitely balanced.

Pollini's determination to present Chopin as an intensely serious artistic innovator illuminated the whole recital. The emphasis in the 24 preludes of Opus 28 was always on the pieces' harmonic experimentalism, an approach which benefited immensely from the rich, dark palette of Pollini's favoured Steinway/Fabbrini instrument. And, where lesser artists can only make the technical brilliance of the Opus 25 Etudes into an end in itself, Pollini's concentrated and unremitting playing triumphantly insisted that the eight he included in this recital had a more ambitious artistic purpose.

Nowhere was this more so than in No 11 in the set, in which the swirling dexterity and pulsating rhythmic drive of the A minor Winter Wind study seemed to leave the 19th-century behind and vault forward into the 20th. This was a Chopin recital of the highest seriousness, with Pollini the right man for the occasion, making an irresistible case for Chopin as one of the greatest of all musical innovators.

Contributor

Martin Kettle

The GuardianTramp

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