Maurizio Pollini – review

Royal Festival Hall, London

Music of the postwar avant-garde has long been central to pianist Maurizio Pollini's repertory. Stockhausen's Klavierstücke 7 and 9 have already featured in his Festival Hall recitals, and he brought the entire series to a close with Pierre Boulez's Second Sonata from 1948, a huge, iconoclastic work. Boulez described it as having an "explosive, disintegrating and dispersive character", and it batters persistently at the limits of form, rhythm and sonority.

The piece's emphasis on demolition is as much intellectual as emotive, and Pollini brings to it the sharpness of focus and refinement of feeling that are integral to his playing. Some of the shards of sound – the limpid opening of the second movement, the slow trickle to silence at the close – had a cool, lapidary beauty. Elsewhere, the violence, disturbing and compelling in equal measure, was treated with dispassionate lucidity.

The high point of the evening, however, was its opening: Chopin's great Op 24 sequence of Preludes. Pollini's clarity – you might even say austerity – speaks volumes in Chopin, where meaning and emotion are often at their most profound when the music is most direct, and where the pianist's refusal to emote exposes tremendous depths of feeling. The pieces' rapid fluctuations of mood were faultlessly integrated into the whole.

Between Chopin and Boulez came a selection from book one of Debussy's Préludes, exquisitely textured if less overtly sensual than usual. Voiles (Veils or Sails) was ravishing, Des Pas sur le Neige (Footprints in the Snow) opened up vistas of supreme existential desolation, while La Cathédrale Engloutie, Debussy's portrait of a cathedral submerged in water, combined mystery with beauty.

Contributor

Tim Ashley

The GuardianTramp

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