Maurizio Pollini – review

Royal Festival Hall, London

Occasionally the focus blurred, but the intellectual coherence of the pianist's Chopin and Debussy was never in doubt

In what otherwise seems a rather lacklustre international piano series at the Southbank Centre this season, the two scheduled recitals by Maurizio Pollini stand out. Pollini will return to London in April to play Beethoven sonatas including the Hammerklavier, but the first of his appearances was devoted to Chopin and Debussy, a recital he dedicated to the memory of Claudio Abbado, his long-time friend and collaborator.

Age is beginning to infiltrate some aspects of Pollini's playing too. The crispness and technical clarity that were such hallmarks of his performances aren't quite as obvious any more, and there were moments – especially in his Chopin selection – when the focus blurred, and some transitions weren't managed as easily as they might have been. That sequence began with the one-off C sharp minor Prelude Op 45 and ended with the B flat minor sonata, taking in two ballades along the way, the more relaxed A flat major third making the perfect complement to the intensely introspective F major second.

What remains as sharply honed as ever, though, is Pollini's intellectual grip. It has always made some of his performances a bit too severe – here both the ballades (the First came later too, as a final encore) could have done with a few more moments of relaxation, while the trio section of the sonata's scherzo might have been more consolingly lyrical. But the intellectual coherence is never in doubt, and that makes his Debussy Preludes – the first book complete here – a wonderfully fresh experience, giving much sharper outlines and textural contrasts to music that is so often heard in soft-focus pastels. Some of the pieces could have been more ingratiating and picturesque, but then perhaps Des Pas sur la Neige wouldn't have been the intense monochrome study it became, and La Cathédrale Engloutie might have lacked the insistent monumental certainty Pollini found in it.

Contributor

Andrew Clements

The GuardianTramp

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