Maurizio Pollini: Chopin Birthday Recital, Royal Festival Hall, London

4.00

One composer; two bicentenaries: Chopin's birthday is disputed. Some anoraks favour 22 February, others insist on 1 March, so the Royal Festival Hall marked both. Maurizio Pollini's capacity-crowded Chopin recital was the second part of the Polska! year that has cunningly branded together the country and its leading composer.

Pollini, now 68, is the Italian arch-aristocrat of the piano, disciple of Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli; he shot to fame winning the Chopin Competition exactly 40 years ago. Back then, impersonal "perfection" was the music world's ideal. He epitomises this approach; it's both a high aim and a bit of a drawback. Pollini is no spinner of sensual fantasy worlds. But he uses his palette of stainless-steel shades to convey unshakeable faith in the music's muscles, sinews and skeleton.

His stage manner remained self-effacing despite the welcoming ovation, but he soon settled into an account of the 24 Preludes that progressed in a single arc with few breaks. The emphasis lay on Chopin's Bach-influenced counterpoint and its inextricable connection with the music's structure. All the meaning was centred in the inner voices and the solid bass line; melodies hovered over harmonic sea-changes, the music's effect rather than its cause.

Yet Pollini never played safe: the manic tempi for the G major and B flat minor preludes, for instance, would be impetuous for a pianist half his age. Moments of hypnotic profundity intervened – the sombre C minor prelude, the sliver of perfect A major, the beloved "Raindrop".

The second half hotted up with the dazzling Ballade No 1. The two Nocturnes of Op 27 seemed alter egos to one another – the second was the evening's most exquisite moment and the most Italianate, rich with the sonorities of bel canto opera. The official closing item was eight Etudes from Op 25. Pollini recorded the complete Etudes early in his career and tonight the wild octaves of No 10, the whirling "winter wind" of No 11 and the heady waves of the final C minor study proved the worth of living with such music for four decades.

By the time he reached his three encores, a barnstorming "Revolutionary" Etude, a tender Mazurka and the Scherzo No 3, despite a yen for more colour and imagination, I could have listened to him all night.

Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
Paul Hollywood

'Whether he left is almost immaterial'TV
Arts and Entertainment

game of thrones reviewWarning: spoilers

Arts and Entertainment
The original Star Wars trio of Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill

George Osborne confirms Star Wars 8 will film at Pinewood Studios in time for 4 May

film

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power