Maurizio Pollini – review

Royal Festival Hall, London

Schubert's last three sonatas, which made up the latest of Maurizio Pollini's five London recitals this season, have a unity and are hewn from the same materials in ways that Beethoven's final three, played by Pollini here two weeks ago, are not. The challenge with the three Schuberts is largely one of stamina, for the audience as much as for the player; even Alfred Brendel recommends the omission of repeats in this programme. Yet there were no such concessions here from the super-concentrated playing of Pollini. Even with his fast tempos, repeats and all, he was at the keyboard for a full two hours. A huge achievement by any standards, especially in such technically demanding writing.

Pollini's Schubert was a world away from the finely wrought Schubertian spans of the Brendel school, let alone from the Olympian architectural approach of earlier pianists like Richter or Serkin in such repertoire. As in his Beethoven, Pollini's tempos were generally fast and almost ferociously focused. The pristine bright sound of his playing was as compelling as ever, the high seriousness of intellectual purpose undeniable, but there was very little room for reflection and contrast.

This driven approach relies on the impeccable technique that has always been a Pollini hallmark, but which here, notably in the A major sonata D959, occasionally let him down – though not, it has to be said, in the hugely demanding torrent of demi-semi-quavers that explodes into the A major's desolate andantino. Ultimately, though, it was all a bit too relentless both in phrasing and touch, an approach that worked fabulously in movements like the allegro finale of the C minor sonata D958, but less convincingly in the long opening movement of the B flat sonata D960, where it was hard not to wish that Pollini allowed the music to breathe more.

Martin Kettle

Contributor

Martin Kettle

The GuardianTramp

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