Maurizio Pollini: Chopin Birthday Recital, Royal Festival Hall, London
Monday 08 March 2010
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.
film Sex scene trailer sees a shirtless Jamie Dornan turn up the heat
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Three-year-old boy shoots pregnant mother and father in New Mexico
- 2 Stephen Fry explains what he would say if he was 'confronted by God'
- 3 Jewish community urged to boycott Cornwall village after residents vote for 'Hitlers Walk' sign to be reinstated
- 4 Benedict Cumberbatch's Alan Turing gay-rights campaign snubbed by Prince William and Kate Middleton
- 5 Kim Sears responds to swearing controversy with 'parental advisory' T-shirt at Andy Murray's Australian Open final
Daniel Radcliffe deemed 'not marketable' without his English accent
Gorillaz Phase 4: Cartoon supergroup is back as new artwork is unveiled
Venezuela Expo Tattoo 2015: Extreme body art from 'Vampire Woman' to 109mm earlobes
As Better Call Saul launches, here are the other spin-off shows we need to see
Game of Thrones season 5 trailer: The first full-length look is here
Stephen Fry explains what he would say if he was 'confronted by God'
The open loathing between Barack Obama and Benjamin Netanyahu just got worse
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
President Putin is a dangerous psychopath - reason is not going to work with him
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
Britain's widening poverty gap should be causing outrage at the start of the election campaign