"A five-recital pilgrimage through the piano repertoire from Bach to the 20th century" is the subtitle of the Pollini Project. But these Festival Hall programmes seem to be as much about reflecting on the career of one of the greatest pianists of our time as they are intentionally didactic. With just a few omissions, the composers included are all those Maurizio Pollini, who will be 70 next year, has played in his solo appearances in London over the last 40 years.
So perhaps this personal stock-take had to begin with Bach, though I doubt whether, in time to come, Pollini will be remembered for his Bach as much as for his Beethoven or Schubert, for instance, or his Chopin or Schumann. There were moments during this rather dogged traversal of the first book of the Well-tempered Clavier when his performances did reach the levels one takes for granted when he plays those later composers and, generally, the technique seemed as secure as ever. Yet the sense of fierce intellectual engagement with what he was playing, so typical of Pollini's finest performances, was rarely evident.
In a couple of the grandest pairings – the C sharp minor prelude and fugue, and the E flat minor – that piercing insight did come through. Otherwise, it was the more modest numbers that worked best – the extrovert E major, the introspective B flat minor. Those were set against others almost dismissed out of hand, such as the E minor prelude, whose change of gear halfway through certainly didn't involve synchromesh, or the F sharp major and F sharp minor pairs at the beginning of the second half of the concert. A curious start to the series.
The Pollini Project continues on 15 February. Box office: 0844 847 9929.