Maurizio Pollini Returns to London in Fine Form

15/03/2018

Schumann, Chopin: Maurizio Pollini (piano). Royal Festival Hall, London, 13.3.2018. (CC)

Schumann – Arabeske in C, Op.18; Allegro in B minor, Op.8; Concert sans orchestre, Op. 14

Chopin – Two Nocturnes, Op.55; Piano Sonata No.3 in B minor, Op.58

Maurizio Pollini is now 76 years young. It must be admitted that not all of his concerts in recent years have been unalloyed triumphs, by any means. However, this one came closer than most, even if not consistently, to revisiting his glory days.

The programme covered core Pollini territory. He has long been associated with both of these two composers, and his Schumann is, and has always been, glorious. The C major Arabeske brought forth, via his Fabbrini Steinway, the warmest, sweetest tone imaginable. The sense of rushing through that has blighted his playing sporadically over the last years was absent, the music instead beautifully exploratory. The final chord was gorgeously balanced.

The Allegro in B minor is hardly everyday Schumann, but Pollini has regularly played it (in fact he played it at the first London Pollini recital I heard in the early-mid 1980s). Dramatic, stormy and full of high contrast, there was huge harmonic understanding here (even if, on occasion, there was some blurring). Also present was the characteristic Pollini hum-along … but what a treat it was to hear the Concert sans orchestra, another piece close to Pollini’s heart. It actually comprises the first version, in three movements, of the Piano Sonata No.3 in F minor. The central movement is a charming set of variations on a theme by Clara Wieck, Pollini revelling in Schumann’s overlapping descending lines. The dark clouds of the first movement and crisply articulated dotted rhythms more than compensated for the odd slip; the superfast finale – it is, after all, marked Prestissimo possible – had nocturnal shadings that were always perfectly of Schumann, even when they seemed to reference Chopin. A superb performance of a wonderful piece.

Chopin, of course, is part of Pollini’s very being. There were only two offerings on the printed programme, though – or three, if you count the Nocturnes individually. The two Nocturnes of Op.55 were well contrasted, with a slight feel of remove for the first (F minor, the final triplet decorations slightly studied but with final chords that were exquisite) while the second (E flat) brought passion in its wake. The Third Sonata, with the first movement repeat included, was pure Pollini in its mastery of gesture, its contrasts and its eschewing of the playful. Yes, there were slips but how he threw himself into the Scherzo, and how beautifully he shaded the Largo. Thunder formed the underlying basis of the scowling finale.

Encores were as inevitable as the standing ovations that separated them: a wondrously unbuttoned Scherzo in C sharp minor (never one to stint on encores, Pollini); a beautiful Berceuse; and, a curious happenstance, the A minor Etude, Op.25/11. ‘Curious happenstance’ as just that morning I had listened to Pollini’s spellbinding September 1960 version on Testament (SBT1473) – the performance that had previously lain unpublished until 2011. He was stunning in 1960; in 2018 there were passages that impressed absolutely as much. Pillars of a career, one might suggest – until one thinks of the vitality of the encores at the end of the evening and realises that, yes, there is surely more to come. And for that, we must be truly grateful.

Colin Clarke

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Comments

Leave a Reply

Recent Reviews

MW

Facebook-button-1

Season Previews

__________________________________
  • NEW! The Royal Opera House’s Sundays for a Fiver Festival in November __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera Holland Park’s 2019 Season __________________________________
  • NEW! The Royal Opera House’s Linbury Theatre Reopens in December 2018 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Met: Live in HD in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! The Royal Opera House’s Exciting 2018/19 Cinema Season __________________________________
  • NEW! See Pop-Up Opera’s La Tragédie de Carmen this Autumn __________________________________
  • NEW! Oxford Chamber Music Festival October 2018 __________________________________
  • UPDATED! Zurich Opera in 2018/2019 and Beyond __________________________________
  • NEW! Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts
 in 2018/2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Edinburgh Sunday International Concerts Series in 2018/19 __________________________________
  • NEW! Salzburg Whitsun Festival 7 – 10 June 2019 __________________________________
  • NEW! Bolshoi Ballet 2018/19 UK Cinema Season __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018-2019 Geneva Grand Theâtre Season __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 Hallé Season in Manchester __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 Tonhalle Orchestra Zürich __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 CBSO at Symphony Hall, Birmingham __________________________________
  • NEW! 2018/19 BBC NOW in Cardiff and Swansea __________________________________
  • Subscribe to Review Summary Newsletter

    Reviews by Reviewer

    News and Featured Articles

    __________________________________
  • NEW! The Future of Opera is Theatre: An Essay by Casey Creel __________________________________
  • NEW! Jacqui and David Morris’s New Documentary Film Nureyev Celebrates a Unique Man and Dancer __________________________________
  • NEW! MAESTRO RICCARDO FRIZZA IN CONVERSATION WITH MARGARIDA MOTA-BULL __________________________________
  • NEW! JACK BUCKLEY’S MEMORIES OF LINDSAY KEMP (1938-2018) __________________________________
  • NEW! THE GESUALDO SIX IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • NEW! A Q&A WITH GERMAN SOPRANO PETRA LANG __________________________________
  • NEW! Opera Appreciation Talks this Autumn from Helen Astrid __________________________________
  • NEW! TENOR NICHOLAS PHAN IN CONVERSATION WITH CHRISTOPHER SALLON __________________________________
  • NEW! THE PIANIST GEORGE HARLIONO IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! HOW TO CONTACT SEEN AND HEARD INTERNATIONAL __________________________________
  • NEW! A Major Work by Stanford to be Premiered – 99 Years Late! __________________________________
  • NEW! THE CONDUCTOR ALEXANDER SLADKOVSKY IN CONVERSATION WITH GREGOR TASSIE __________________________________
  • NEW! THE TENOR RUSSELL THOMAS IN CONVERSATION WITH MARGARIDA MOTA-BULL __________________________________
  • NEW! RAFAL BLECHACZ IN CONVERSATION WITH GEOFFREY NEWMAN __________________________________
  • Search S&H

    Archives by Week

    Archives by Month