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Concert Review/ Maurizio Pollini

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Maurizio Pollini, Piano

Chopin: Two Nocturnes, Op.27
Chopin: 24 Preludes, Op.28 (1838-1839)
Chopin: Ballade No.1 in G Minor, Op.23 (c.1835)
Chopin: Scherzo No.1 in B Minor, Op.20 (c.1835)
Chopin: Selections from 12 Etudes, Op.25 (c.1835-1837)
        No.1 in A Flat Major, ‘Aeolian Harp’
        No.2 in F Minor
        No.3 in F Major
        No.4 in A Minor
        No.7 in C Sharp Minor
        No.10 in B Minor
        No.11 in A Minor, ‘Winter Wind’
        No.12 in C Minor

     One ingenious composer. One phenomenal concert hall. One-of-a-kind pianist. This recital on Sunday afternoon was certainly one of those occasions to witness this tripartite in perfect harmony. It might as well explain the sold-out attendance - the first of three recitals that features Italian pianist Maurizio Pollini in an all-Chopin programme at the Carnegie Hall. In three subsequent weeks, Pollini celebrates Chopin’s bicentenary in three individual programmes with an over-arching theme that probes into the world of Frédéric Chopin. The first began with a survey of piano works culminating the earliest period of the three.

      With patrons filled at every conceivable corners of the Hall, including additional rows of stage seats appended at the last minute, Pollini opened his recital with the Two Nocturnes Op.27 in sweeping melodic dialogue. The light touch and sparkling sound projected from the “Fabbrini” Steinway assisted our soloist to evoke a sense of tranquility that was golden and breath-taking. Coupled together with Pollini’s typical straight-forwardness and discrete use of rubato, each phrase-shaping made structural and lyrical continuity from one to the next, only to end sweetly with a pensive and calm tenderness. Hearing the entire 24 Preludes Op.28 likewise offered audience a full appreciation into Chopin’s knowledge of the instrument. At times, Pollini appeared drown by the beauty of the melody and succumbed to the occasional heavy-handedness and over-pedaling that distorted clarity. Even the tempi to a selected few appeared to provoke a sense of urgency when unnecessary - for example, in the Prelude No.4 in E Minor and the ‘Raindrop’ Prelude.No.15 in D Flat. But one observation was noteworthy in his performance throughout – rather than treating each Prelude as a work of individuality, Pollini elected to express them as groups, leaving only sporadic long pauses in between each selection. By doing so, listeners were adjusted to appreciating the collection on the basis of their tonal relationships, which Pollini delivered with poetic elegance and technical brilliance.

     Opening the second half was the First Ballade in G Minor Op.23, a piece which Pollini continues to champion with fire, poetry and stupendous technique that brought all these elements in consistency. A unique feature in Pollini’s interpretations of Chopin had its characteristic appearance here, which was his provisional choice to linger just a slight bit longer over the top notes of a phrase, as if to prime listeners to the musical wave-front that followed in a heroic sweep. The coda was a natural conclusion; its highly dramatic opening spanning the two extremes of the keyboard launched as a projectile that found resolution only at its feverish ending. The opening of the First Scherzo in B Minor Op.20 equally had its moments of explosive outburst, driven by an impassioned intensity and power. But later on, evidence of Pollini’s sensual expressiveness surfaced, and throughout the Hall, all eyes and ears were drawn onto him like a magnet. It was also in this Scherzo where Pollini had rendered the art to balance and project all voices of the melodic harmony with such craftsmanship that it seemed deceivingly effortless.

      The 12 Etudes Op.10 was planned originally for this programme, but instead, Pollini had chosen to present a selection of eight Etudes from the Op.25 set. Like the Preludes, the Etudes were grouped as four pairs in order to showcase the richness and diversity of Chopin’s expression rather than a set of virtuosic exercises. These included Pollini’s vivid demonstration of poetic lyricism (Nos. 1 and 2), colourful refinement (Nos. 3 and 4), dramatic temperament (Nos. 7 and 10) and ingenious melodic and harmonic invention (Nos. 11 and 12). The audience went wild after the rolling finger passageworks of the C Minor Etude, with no less than four rounds of applauses. Pollini was generous to offer three independent encores, including his most favourite in recitals (the ‘Revolutionary’ Etude No.12 Op.10), as well as the Mazurka in C Major Op.33 No.3 and the Third Scherzo in C Sharp Minor, Op.39.

     Those who will have the great fortune to be in New York City should take advantage of the remainder two recitals of Maurizio Pollini on April 29th and May 9th, respectively. Be part of an experience to hear a true Chopin master at work.

By: Patrick P.L. Lam

Image by Philippe Gontier - DG

Homepage: Maurizio Pollini at Deutsche Grammophon
Homepage: Carnegie Hall

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