Maurizio Pollini's 2011 concert recording of Johannes Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1 in D minor is an important document because it not only captures his return to playing with the esteemed Staatskapelle Dresden (his first performance with the group since 1986), and his first collaboration with conductor Christian Thielemann, but it presents the very work the pianist played at his Staatskapelle debut in 1976. All of this background is helpful to know, to understand the significance Deutsche Grammophon attaches to this release, even at the risk of offering a CD that runs just over 45 minutes, without any filler for added value.
No prizes for predicting that this Liszt B minor Sonata is technically flawless and beautifully structured. What may come as more of a shock (though not to those who have followed Pollini's career closely) is its sheer passion. To say that he plays as if his life depended on it is an understatement, and those who regularly accuse him of coolness should sit down in a quiet room with this recording, a decent hi-fi system and a large plateful of their own words. The opening creates a sense of coiled expectancy, without recourse to a mannered delivery such as Brendel's on Philips, and Pollini's superior fingerwork is soon evident. His virtuosity gains an extra dimension from his ability at the same time to convey resistance to it—the double octaves are demonstrably a fraction slower than usual and yet somehow feel faster, or at least more urgent. There is tensed steel in the very fabric of the playing. By the two-minute mark so much passion has been unleashed one is bound to wonder if it has not all happened too soon. But that is to underestimate Pollini's unerring grasp of the dramatic structure and its psychological progression from paragraph to paragraph; it is also to underestimate his capacity to find extra technical resources when it would seem beyond the power of flesh and blood to do so.
Esteemed for almost 60 years as one of the greatest Chopin interpreters, Maurizio Pollini confirms his preeminence with this 2017 release on Deutsche Grammophon, and offers his first all-Chopin disc since 2012. Chopin's late works were composed between 1845 and 1849, and include the Barcarolle in F sharp major, Op. 60, the 3 Mazurkas, Op. 59, the Polonaise-Fantaisie in A flat major, Op. 61, the 2 Nocturnes, Op. 62, the 3 Mazurkas, Op. 63, the 3 Waltzes, Op. 64, and the Mazurka in F minor, Op. Posth. 68, No. 4; they are notable for their harmonic richness and freedom of melodic embellishment, characteristics that made them especially influential among his Romantic contemporaries. Pollini's fluid phrasing and control of expression and dynamics have always given his performances sophistication and a feeling of balance, though these are engaging renditions that are far from cerebral or clinical, claims that critics have sometimes laid at Pollini's door. Yet listeners can hear for themselves how polished and deeply felt these performances are, and appreciate the artistic wholeness of Pollini's conceptions, from the elegance of the "Minute" Waltz to the sublime melancholy of the posthumous Mazurka in F minor. Highly recommended for fans of great piano music.
Bartók's Piano Concertos are among the most difficult ever written; only a piano virtuoso of amazing dexterity, along with a virtuoso orchestra, can play them. Maurizio Pollini is that pianist, and the Chicago Symphony is that orchestra. The pianist's command of the music is consistently impressive, and Claudio Abbado leads the orchestra in extremely close sympathy with the pianist. The result is a set of performances that would be ideal except for two factors. One is that this LP reissue contains only two Concertos, when all three can fit on one CD. The other is that the recording balance so undervalues the orchestra that you can't hear everything. I'd love to hear these artists rerecord the same music with better engineering. –Leslie Gerber
While Pollini's Schumann is not to everyone's taste – some find his virtuoso playing too cool and his bracing interpretations too intellectual – for those who revere Pollini, his Schumann is a tonic after nearly two centuries of sloppy and sentimental performance practice. Pollini's Davidsbündlertänze may not be as poetic as Arrau's and his Kreisleriana may not be as fantastic as Argerich's, but he finds meanings and significances in the works that no one ever has before. Pollini's Concert sans orchestre and Allegro in B minor are second to none in technical panache and interpretive aplomb. DG's piano sound is as real as playing the piano.
Pollini's traversal of Chopin's 19 Nocturnes (he leaves out the pair of posthumous ones) is one of his finest recordings in years. His long-lined yet detailed performances are comparable to the very different ones that have long stood at the pinnacle of recorded sets. Not as serene as Artur Rubinstein's, not as philosophical as Claudio Arrau's, nor as warm as Ivan Moravec's, Pollini's interpretations have their own allure. One is the way he shapes the melodies with a natural flow enhanced by his tonal beauty, less lean and streamlined than his usual way with Romantic music.
There's nothing at all wrong with Maurizio Pollini's 2009 performance of Bach's Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1. The Italian pianist's intellectual lucidity, interpretive clarity, and technical virtuosity are apparent in every prelude and fugue, and his probing insights and penetrating analysis inform every note. However, there is almost nothing right with the sound quality of the recording. The piano sounds too distant, making it hard to hear precisely what Pollini is doing, but oddly, the ambient sound is too present, making every extraneous noise too loud. One should not hear the pedals being pressed and lifted, much less the clatter of the hammers and the twanging of the strings above the sound of the music. Worse yet, one can hear what sounds like every breath Pollini takes nearly as loudly as every note he plays. These are all grievous flaws that should have been eliminated, and their presence fatally undermines the brilliance of Pollini's performances. A reengineered version of these performances would be most welcome, but the present recording is so flawed that it virtually destroys Pollini's playing.