Maurizio Pollini, 72, may be one of the all-time piano greats, but he’s also famously nervy, and for much of his Southbank recital – dedicated to Claudio Abbado - he communicated his nerves to us.
After a gravely serene account of Chopin’s final Prelude, he launched into that composer’s second and third Ballades in a doggedly getting-through-it way, with the passage-work smudged and the lyricism singularly joyless.
He delivered the opening movement to Chopin’s second sonata in the same spirit, but when he reached the sweetly-singing middle section of the funeral march something seemed to click, and the music took off into a seductive dream: suddenly Pollini was playing with his old authority, and he went on deliver the sinister ‘wind over the graves’ finale with breath-taking wizardry.
The rest of his concert was sublime, with the customised Fabbrini Steinway – which had been far from ideal for Chopin – allowing him to turn Debussy’s first book of Preludes into a richly suggestive succession of tone-poems.
Many of these pieces are dialogues between the hands doing very different things far apart, and his control of shading, colour, and form was masterly.
After a standing ovation, two triumphant Chopin encores: yes, God’s still in his heaven.