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.
"Arrau's Chopin – now available in a six-CD box (Philips 432 303-2) as part of Philips's Arrau Edition – is as far from moonstruck "sentimentality" as any Chopin ever was. But no performance of the Preludes is more sentimental, in Schiller's sense, than the version Arrau recorded for Philips in 1973. Its premise – that the cycle is a grand tragedy, the darkest thing Chopin wrote – is unmistakable. Even the prefatory C-major Prelude heaves with orgasmic rubatos – more weight, it seems, than the music can possibly bear. And yet, as Arrau packs each small berth with a world of feeling, the weight grips and holds. At times, the sheer density of emotion can seem suffocatingly intense. The Prelude No. 22, a Stygian descent, is surely Hades; the plunging scales of No. 24 rip the thread of life."
Pianist Dong Hyek Lim, a bit older than the youthful face in the graphics might suggest, has gained a reputation as a Chopin specialist, with restrained, often exquisitely detailed performances made for the small recital hall rather than for the concert hall. This was, of course, the kind of venue for which Chopin wrote most of his music, and this is a very fine tour through the much-recorded 24 Preludes, Op. 28, which form the centerpiece of this album. Lim does well to introduce things with the flashier and rarely played Variations brillantes in B flat major, Op. 12, commanding the listener's attention before delving into the Preludes, some of the most harmonically intricate music Chopin wrote. Sample any of the really famous Preludes, such as the Prelude in E minor, Op. 28, No. 4, for an idea of what Lim is up to here: he not only lingers over dissonances, but explores their potential directions with sensitivity and intelligence, all while keeping the top of the dynamic range not very high. Lim takes you back to the public world with the Berceuse in D flat major, Op. 57, and Barcarolle in F sharp major, Op. 60, which show him to be capable of a more brilliant style. London's Henry Wood Hall fits these pieces well, but Warner's engineers might have gone with even a more intense, intimate space for the preludes. In any event, the performance of those is one of the most absorbing to have come along in quite some time.