Classical: In your own time, Mr Pogorelich

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The Independent Culture
IVO POGORELICH has always been a controversial pianist but, to judge from his latest CD of Chopin's four Scherzos and the benefit recital he gave in aid of the historic sites of Vukovar, his eccentricity follows a certain pattern. His all-Chopin programme on Monday looked, on paper, your average two hours, without encores. It lasted at least 20 minutes longer.

One of Pogorelich's several gifts is a wonderfully focused sound. Launching the C minor Polonaise - if launching is the right word for the leisurely, wayward tempo he adopted - his left hand octaves sounded huge, as if he were pushing open the great bronze gates of a structure too immense to size up. Never mind that Chopin's score suggests something initially more understated - yet with more impetus, this was a strong, strange alternative view. The F sharp minor Polonaise, Op 44, began more conventionally, proud and pompous, though with the left hand overbalancing the right, until in the delicate contrasting section, Pogorelich's relish for the most refined and delicate sonorities threatened to bring progress to a halt. The piece seemed to drag on for ever.

What might he do with the Funeral March Sonata? The opening motto was, again, enormously enlarged, though Pogorelich didn't include it in the repeat. The second subject was slowed down a lot, too, and rather heavy- handed, while the central development was distorted by having some bars virtually doubled in length. No wonder the whole movement seemed disjointed. The Scherzo - a real killer - went well, though again Pogorelich's left hand was too loud for his right. In the Trio section he made some ravishing sounds, while lingering on certain notes in a rather mysterious way.

And he took the Funeral March itself at a sensible tempo, though it got a bit slower as it wore on, and the central tune settled down at a slower pace that, unfortunately, suggested a rather boring walk. The celebrated fourth movement was a mysterious blur - most people would probably agree that it is a mysterious movement - without any accents added (which pianists often apply) but continuous rumble from the right pedal.

After the interval, in the three Op 59 Mazurkas, Pogorelich took every opportunity to show off his beautifully varied touch and feeling for independent strands within textures. But it was very hard to follow a line through these pieces, or even make sense of their rhythms. The effect was distinctly quizzical.

By now the pattern of Pogorelich's pendulum-like nature was clear. And so it was in the Third Sonata, with the more relaxed passages of the opening movement bell-like and lingering, the middle section of the Scherzo so stretched out one sometimes wondered when the next note was coming, and the third movement excruciatingly slow. And yet the main part of the Scherzo was deliciously fluent and light and, in the finale, Pogorelich at last found the sense of continuity and purpose which had eluded him for most of the evening.