Chopin has remained one of the staples of Maurizio Pollini’s career both on record and in the concert hall for more than half a century. Since completing his recordings of most of the major works (only the mazurkas were not covered comprehensively), his most recent Chopin discs have returned to parts of that repertory to explore it chronologically. After collections devoted to works with opus numbers in the 20s and 30s, the latest focuses on the last pieces from Opp 59 to 64. There’s the Barcarolle and the Polonaise-Fantaisie, together with six mazurkas, two nocturnes and three waltzes, and the unfinished F minor Mazurka Op 68 no 3 added as an epilogue.
It’s easy to understand why Pollini should have been drawn back to these late pieces, with their harmonic daring and structural subtleties. He gives a fascinating account of the Barcarolle, austere and detached, but also intensely focused, though the Polonaise-Fantaisie, one of Chopin’s supreme achievements, disappoints; there’s none of the rhythmic drive Pollini once brought to it, as if now he is too wrapped up in its formal innovations. For all its passing beauties, there’s a sense throughout the disc that he’s more concerned with what he is still discovering in the music than in communicating to a larger audience; it often tells us more about him than it does about Chopin.